Friday, June 24, 2016

M-I-C-K-E-Y, M-O-M-D-E

Mississippi Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Dr. John Q. Porter and contract employee Elton Stokes, Jr. went to a conference at Disneyworld on the taxpayer's dime.  Steve Wilson reported at this week

Mississippi taxpayers paid more than $3,200 for a deputy superintendent in the Department of Education to attend a convention last fall at Florida’s Walt Disney World, according to records obtained by Mississippi Watchdog.

John Q. Porter, the interim chief information officer for MDE, went to the Gartner Symposium IT Expo held at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa in October and billed taxpayers for more than $1,890 in lodging at the five-star hotel. His airfare cost $984.20 and his meals added another $336. 

Porter has racked up more than $10,260 in travel expenses this fiscal year, which ends July 1.

In the third quarter alone, taxpayers paid more than $8,000 for Porter to attend conferences in Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Texas and Illinois. The department as a whole has spent more than $1.8 million on travel in fiscal 2016.

Porter charged taxpayers more than $2,700 for a February trip to Phoenix for the National Association of School Superintendents’ annual education conference.

Taxpayers also spent more than $908 for a trip in February to Washington, D.C., for Porter to attend a Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems grant program conference. The SLDS is a project of the National Center for Education Statistics, an agency that collects and analyzes data related to education in the United States and other countries.

The bill could have been even higher for taxpayers, but several of Porter’s trips were paid for, in part, by outside organizations.

Food and lodging for Porter’s October 2015 trip to the Education Information Management Advisory Consortium’s Fall Summit in Wisconsin was paid for by the Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonpartisan organization of public officials who head state departments of elementary and secondary education. Porter charged taxpayers only for his $228 car rental and valet parking fees.

He also had a trip to Denver that was mostly paid for by the Foundation for Excellence in Education. The SLDS paid a small part of Porter’s airfare to Dallas for a December grantee orientation program. That trip cost Mississippi taxpayers more than $850.

Porter was hired on May 21, 2015 as the MDE’s chief information officer with a salary of $195,000. The Mississippi Board of Education went into executive session and voted unanimously to hire him. His salary was reduced at a recent board meeting to more than $183,000. (KF note: This took place after State Auditor Stacey Pickering  told MDE the salary was illegal.)

 Before he was hired as CIO, Porter and Washington, D.C.-based Blue Sky Innovative Solutions LLC received several single-source consulting contract totaling more than $293,000 starting in 2014 and ending with his hiring by the MDE.

Kingfish note: Now for Mr. Stokes.   Mr. Stokes attended the same conference in October 2015 at Disneyworld.  Some of the expenses paid by MDE were: 

*$631 airfare to fly from Washington, DC to Orlando, Florida

* $315 per night for four nights for hotel stay (Total: $1,260) at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (A "lagoon view" is mentioned.)
* $551 airfar to fly from Orlando, Fl. to Austin, Tx. for another conference

Mr. Stokes attended the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems regional meeting in November 2015 as well.  He charged airfare ($509), lodging at the Orlando World Center Mariott ($285 for two  nights), and $168 in other expenses to MDE.  Dr. Porter approved the payment of these expenses.

Dr. Porter approved all expenses.   


Anonymous said...

Good to know they don't have to sit in coach on their plane rides.

Friendly skies said...

Maybe he will be an airline hostess upon retirement since he enjoys free travel so much

Anonymous said...

"A "lagoon view" is mentioned."

The same lagoon where the gator ate that 3 year old from Nebraska.

Disney World hosts a lot of legit conferences, but first class airfare and the Grand Floridian - total ripoff of taxpayers.

Johnny Weir said...

"Sick, Sick, Sick" Mississippi has the worse school system in the United States and this is the reason why. Education money goes to this kind of crap. MS kids struggle with reading, writing, & arithmetic. No wonder those who can afford it send their kids to private schools. And this just increases the downward spiral of state education. What even worse the state govt. allows this to go on.
Where are the super heroes when you need them.

Anonymous said...

But it's for the kids. We need more money!!!

Anonymous said...

Fully fund MAEP!!! That's what will make the system better!! It's FOR THE KIDS for crying out loud!

Anonymous said...

The people of Ms. made their choice. They would rather tax payers money be spent on benefits, travel, and vacation by the over paid people than the same money spent on teachers and classrooms. Ms. is very proud of their last place slot in education and will work hard to keep it.

Anonymous said...

I've been in business for over 50 years and I don't spend that kind of money on travel. "IT'S GOVERNMENT MONEY", that doesn't count. What the hell is wrong with people????? EVERYONE, DON'T WALK OUT OF MISSISSIPPI---RUN RUN RUN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

"In the third quarter alone, taxpayers paid more than $8,000 for Porter to attend conferences in Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., Colorado, Texas and Illinois."

7 conferences at $8,000 total to taxpayers...sounds cheap to me.

Look at the conferences other high level officials or those in private business attend. Doubt it is any less.

Anonymous said...

Why do they need to go to any conferences? What are they going to tell them they can't read about online somewhere or learn over the phone?

Anonymous said...

1:06... I would say that's cheap too but who the hell goes to 7 conferences in "third quarter alone"! When did this overpaid jacka$$ have time to do his job.

Anonymous said...

I just went to Travelocity and put in arbitrary dates for round trip to and from Orlando in October 2016. Round trip was under $412.00. Maybe that $900.00 plus airfare charge should be looked at.

Anonymous said...

When we had Southwest, the State Travel Agency never checked their prices. WHY? We do not need traveling expensive executives in the State Department of Education. We need magic markers in the classrooms. We need third grade requirement to read; keep this. We need better methods of enforcing discipline. We do not need this travel. Wake up Legislature and Legislators!!! MAEP will not help the children; it will help the teachers union.

Anonymous said...

If he's racking up frequent-flyer miles with all of these travels on state money, then the state travel guidelines require those accrued miles be used to offset the cost of future business travel, not personal travel.

Anonymous said...

3:35, come on, if a person will use other people's money for something as easily as this bum did he will not worry any about using the frequent flyer miles for himself. Sort of like asking a bank robber not to break the speed limit in the get away car.

Anonymous said...

"it will help the teachers union"

If I had a nickel.

Anonymous said...

Every state agency abuses travel, its cultural and seen as an entitlement. If folks are so twisted up about travel they should look at Homeland Security Director Barnes' federal and state subsidized trips with his girlfriend.

Anonymous said...

The air fare certainly sounds like first class but who knows. A lot of conferring in a short time frame. My experience is a lot of these are for networking which lead to future jib offers and or personal consulting gigs. In private business you have to actually accomplish something at conferences. To ustify the expense.

Wow said...


A whole lot of factual information, but this does not amount to anything necessarily.

Kingfish re-shared travel expenses from a Department of a State agency that someone else wrote in another article on for effect. You can literally find such expense reports of other agencies similarly doing this all across the board.

It's potentially a faulty argument:
1)Complain about the quality of the public sector worker
2)Conclude that no public sector worker is efficient
3)Pay public sector worker little in comparison to private sector because of 1) and 2)

So, when a public sector worker / department spends travel on conferences (something that every private company does as part of workforce development),

We write hit pieces on all the money spent.

So what do you want Kingfish? For our public employees to actually develop professionally and become higher functioning? To have attractive opportunities for self-development in lieu of other private sector benefits?

Or do you want more bureaucracy? Maybe we should create some more laws and make an agency that manages the travel of all the other State Agencies. There could be a really comprehensive, in-depth compliance process with lots of hoops and paperwork to be followed in order for anyone to request any kind of travel or professional development. Is that the solution?

4:48, you think 'actually accomplishing something' at conferences and justifying expenses is something the private sector only does? That's not the case at all. It's pretty standard business to Weigh your Leads and Score them post conference to prioritize action after a conference. And to calculate ROI for conference costs based on Leads and converted opportunities post conference.

I'm tired of fellow conservatives expressing blanket age-old arguments that "the public sector is just inefficient." If we want to have small government, then we better be damn sure that it is efficient and that there are attractive benefits to the little public sector workers we do want to have and that they have opportunities to invest in themselves while in the public sector. Those are the kind of things that can compensate for a lower salary and attract high talent candidates.

So, this re-shared article is factual, but to me it doesn't tell me anything other than Kingfish's agenda to continue a narrative of trying to portray "smoke" coming from MDE. Time will tell if there is anything there.

Anonymous said...

Travel is all some folks in government do.

Anonymous said...

What's the problem?

The Foundation for Excellence in Education was founded by well known conservative Jeb Bush!

This is the same guy that's the brother of well known conservative Neil "Silverado" Bush who was selling COWS (Curriculumon Wheels) to people dumb enough to buy them.

Anonymous said...

My wife taught school for 25 years. Every single year she spent her own money on classroom supplies and enrichment materials for her students. The school had no money (allegedly) for these materials. Hundreds of dollars on a teacher's salary. Every. Single. Year. And this was a common thing for teachers to do. I wonder if these high-priced public servants/consultants/leaches ever considered spending their own money to better our children's educational opportunities. Any bets?

It is an absolute outrage for taxpayers' hard-earned money to be wasted like this. Is anyone in a position of authority (lookin' at you Phil, Tate, Philip) outraged? We know you (or your sycophant advisers) read JJ. What say you?

Anonymous said...

I work for a state agency and we are supposed to work through one of two travel agencies that bid for the state contract. Their prices are always, always higher, but that isn't my fault as an employee- I didn't have anything to do with the law. I doubt Dr. Porter is booking his own flight. The state travel agencies we have to work through won't book SW, or any of the bargain airlines because those won't pay a fee to the travel agency AND then on top of that we get charged a booking fee by the travel agent. If I'm traveling I go through the hoops of getting the travel agency quote plus the additional quotes I'm required to get so that I can bypass the state agency and I just wait to get reimbursed. However, many teachers don't have the means to wait to get reimbursed so in those cases we have to use the state agency. Once again a lot of this legislative oversight and mandates costs state agencies money. We have to use a state vendor for office supplies- 99 times out of 100 I can get it cheaper someplace else. Doesn't matter unless I want to make a gagillion small purchases to stay under the cap. There are a 100 other similar examples.

Phil said...

Here's what I say 8:42.

The folks on the Coast aren't smelling lawnmower fumes from the oil spill anymore so that's good!

If a teacher knew what was going on she wouldn't be a teacher.

Suck it up buttercup because elections have consequences.

There a reason we get elected to orfice.

Anonymous said...

8:42 - right on! I can't remember ever NOT having to send paper towels, etc. along with my child to school. Maybe next time they ask for similar such items I'll send them a copy of the check the state cashed for my taxes...

Anonymous said...

If we had honest audits of any government, we would all be stunned at the waste--and yet they always demand more, more, more of our money-no matter the little "D" or "R" by their name. And, boy, do they always promise everything we want to hear--just look at the two clowns who are on national TV news all the time. Both are giving you what you want to hear, but I promise that both will continue the status-quo. (yes--no matter what they say)

It only gets better if voters hold candidates accountable.

Anonymous said...

9:01, You do know the teachers vote on who gets the contracts to be one of the state vendors you are talking about. Of course the teachers do not tell about all of the reasons why they choose a certain vendor.

Anonymous said...

8:16, any suggestions on how to hold candidates accountable? We can't even hold elected officials accountable.

Anonymous said...

Ummm @9:15, no, teachers don't vote on who gets state contracts.

Anonymous said...

9:28, try going to one of their meetings, usually held in one of the casinos. The state used to let the public know which vendors got the OK. Also published the price that was to be paid for what the vendors sold. People got to noticing the higher than average prices vendors were charging and why they got the contracts. Since then nothing is publicized.

Anonymous said...

I have been a teacher for 12 years, and have never been given an "opportunity to vote" for anything - much less a vendor or state contract.

Anonymous said...

This is a condensed version of info from a person involved in IHL.

Teachers meet annually where vendors showcase their products.
Teachers vote on which vendors that they want to supply their schools.
A list of vendors go on the preferred list.
List is given to school and district administrators.
List is passed on to IHL.
IHL passes on the list to ITS.

Vendors are not chosen for their low bids. They are usually chosen by what type of benefits they show to each group.

This info came straight from an IHL employee.

Anonymous said...

IHL = Institute of Higher Learning? The board that oversees the state universities and colleges.

MDE = Mississippi Dept of Education. Oversees public schools in Mississippi.

Perhaps that is how it is done in the colleges and universities, but public school teachers are not choosing vendors.

Teachers are called in to look at curriculum from preselected curriculum companies from time to time. There is an opinion given there - but the teachers don't get anything special (oh -maybe an exciting pen or notepad).

Anonymous said...

Teachers are called in to look at curriculum from preselected curriculum companies from time to time. There is an opinion given there - but the teachers don't get anything special (oh -maybe an exciting pen or notepad).

At one time the "gifts" had to be disclosed. As the gifts became larger the disclosing became less likely to happen. After a while the gifts were never mentioned. The gift giving didn't stop, just the disclosing.

Kingfish said...

Kingfish re-shared travel expenses from a Department of a State agency that someone else wrote in another article on for effect.

Actually no. I reprinted Mr. Wilson's article with his permission. The news about Elton Stokes was original and obtained through public records requests filed by this website with MDE. Nice try.

Anonymous said...

@11:34 as has already been stated the IHL and MDE are two different agencies, but can you find out where this vendor festival takes place? In our house one of us works K-12 and one works Higher Ed- 20 plus years for each of us. In all seriousness I'd like to know where/when this takes place. I'd put money that if it happens that it isn't an open event.

Anonymous said...

9:11, no it isn't an open event. If you were not allowed to go it wasn't an accident. They are usually held in one of the casinos. Of course they do not want people knowing about it.
If you do some research you can find out when they stopped declaring the gifts they received from the lucky vendors. That would require a little work on your part.

Anonymous said...

I'm a state employee who has worked for 3 different agencies. Absolutely there are jerkwads like this that do nothing concrete, and when you ask them to define their jobs you'll hear a lot of abstractions and generalizations, and they shamelessly accept their made-up positions because, heck, it beats working for a living. Sure, there are people who pad travel. But there are also true public servants who work hard and are honest. Also, some agencies have missions of dubious importance yet are overfunded and overstaffed, while some with missions of critical importance are starved. I guess what I'm saying is that it's a complex landscape.

If Tate and Gunn want to make government more cost effective, they need to do a thorough investigation of the agencies and all of the PINs, and then make smart cuts, as opposed to just slashing and burning with little to no strategy.

Anonymous said...

Once a person is appointed or hired to a board or a key position in State government, the flattery begins. Those who need that person's vote will do everything they can to find a way to win it. It could be providing social advantages to the person or those important to that person. It could be invitations to conventions to speak. The opportunities to appeal to the human ego are countless.
In those rare cases where the person doesn't respond to these appeals to ego and needs, the strategy is to neutralize the " threat" by discrediting the person.
The same tactics are used with newly elected positions and organizational representatives.
That anyone believes those at the bottom rung are actually considered or represented is naïve.
Since those at the top of systems want to stay at the top, it quickly gets to be all about their self-interest and rationalizing that there self- interest is everyone's self interest is easy.

Anonymous said...

So back to the original erroneous statement that teachers are picking state vendors- they aren't. As to disclosure we aren't allowed to accept much of anything without it being disclosed. I think it is a total of $150.00 a year from all vendors combined. That supposedly includes free food at receptions at conferences held by vendors. Contrast that to my medical friends who have nearly every breakfast and lunch brought in by a vendor. Boy, teachers and admins we sure have it good. The private sector is way better and free from outside influence. Sorry- friends with too many people in the med field to believe one.

Anonymous said...

First it was teachers do not get to pick vendors.
Then came they get to pick vendors but might get a pen and note pad.
Now teachers are not picking vendors but can only take up to $150.00.

It wasn't that long ago it made the news when teachers at a Biloxi casino received kick backs from a vendor that got the contract to supply computers.

Research is a great tool. Too bad so many people are not able or willing to do it.

Anonymous said...

This guy, who knows so much (but not even the difference between MDE and IHL where his "friend" works and keeps him informed) must be right. The teachers here are living high on kickbacks, notepads, pens, and free food from vendors. I just wonder where I can sign up for this life of luxury (and trip to Disney).

Anonymous said...

@4:09 yep. From a statewide conference last week I got a notepad, pencil, a hard plastic water bottle and a tote bag. 14 more conferences in the next year and I'll have something to disclose. (@1:59 show where "teachers" got kickbacks on computers.)

Anonymous said...

Does MS not have travel regulations for govt employees? Nearly all states I am familiar with say no first class, except for executive (governor but not his entourage!) and or as indicated by physician (disability, length of trip and DVT risk due to age or illness as specified by doctors note and reqd by ADA or OHSA).

JJ, can you look into this?

Is he violating state law by traveling first class?

If not, why does such a poor state fail to have such regulations?

I am familiar with many states' and fed govt rules for both state/govt employees and contractors. For example, every consulting contract (admittedly none with MS) I have seen/negotiated will not reimburse or cover first class travel. For anyone.

Is Ms that stupid or is he violating the law?

Anonymous said...

Is Ms that stupid

Better ask Stacey Pickering!

He catches 'em!

Anonymous said...

For the apologists on here who think this isn't much money, look at it this way: Allowing an employee to schedule him/herself to attend multiple conferences throughout the year is akin to being allowed to take a three-day-weekend every couple of weeks. How nice. This woman thinks her employees are in such stressful jobs that they need to ulax, rewind, recharge, put on that untucked-Hawaiian shirt and head out of town six to twelve times a year on the citizen's dime.

For 3:27...who so often mentions a 'teacher's union'....Please cite whatever evidence you have of the existence of such. This state has no state employee collecting bargaining in its structure and that includes teachers. No universal grievance procedure, no collective bargaining, no salary protection, no rights of transfer or retention, no seniority retention or assignment plan, no elected officials, no union stewards, no union president, no union rep, no NLRB protections. So, either quit bringing it up or cite your evidence, clown.

Anonymous said...

9:55, Is Ms that stupid or is he violating the law?

Yes, Ms. is that stupid. Where do you think Ms. can drop to in education? We are already in last place. When they come up with something lower than last place, look for Ms. to lock it in.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the Grand Floridian expense report doesn't mention the $4,000 registration fee. Or, that there are state-rate hotel rooms available at this conference that Dr. Porter chose not to use. While I agree that conferences are an integral part of professional development and, if used correctly, they are important, I'm not sure that paying a $4,000 registration fee for two people and staying in a hotel that was not designated for state-rate is an efficient and effective use of tax-payer funds.

Anonymous said...

The $4000 registration fee includes charter fishing boat, open/free bar nightly, golf, day trip for spouses or friend-boys, heavy horror-dee-oovers, evening entertainment beginning with the night prior, and a braided-bill cap made in China.

Anonymous said...

1:35, quit complaining. These people deserve to be able to swindle the tax payers. It is their right for being so much more intelligent that us peons. It has too be true or it would not happen.

Send Them On A Cruise... said...

I'm 1:35 and I wasn't complaining. Just clearing up what the $4000 goes toward. Alternatively, imagine what manner of bullshit regulation and process these people could be involved in if they remained in Jackson.

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