Arizona School District Travel Tips

by Bryce Kozlowski, Staff Associate II

Posted on June 13, 2019

Traveling for work can be very hectic, and so can confirming reimbursements are supported once the employee returns. Here is some advice that will help simplify the process and reduce some of the stress when audit time rolls around.

The easiest way to take the headache out of travel is to make sure the board-adopted travel policy is clear and thorough. Improving documentation requirements in the policy manual is important because these can differ from district to district. State and Federal guidelines provide a minimum for compliance, but many districts opt to strengthen policies above and beyond the bare minimum. Clear school policy will help simplify the administrative processing of travel requests and reimbursements, and clearly identify employee responsibilities while out of the office. There will also be the added benefit of helping your auditors find the information they need and eliminate unnecessary audit findings.

Tips on items to outline within the policy manual:

  • Ensure that district policy is not less restrictive than the minimums found in the USFR, State statutes, and Auditor General FAQ guidance.
  • Do not include specific mileage rates in policy. Instead, refer directly to the ADOA manual as they are subject to frequent change. Additionally, it is best to check the current rates at least monthly to ensure that the most current rate is being utilized.
  • Identify and clearly explain complicated or confusing elements of travel policy. For example, ADOA specifies that on days of travel, meal reimbursements for actual amounts spent should not exceed 75% of the full-day meal reimbursement rate. Therefore, if an employee is traveling to Phoenix and spends 80% of the full-day rate on meals for the day they are traveling, they are only entitled to a reimbursement of 75% of that rate. Policy manual explanations such as this can help clarify the requirement and reduce misunderstandings or other hold-ups in the reimbursement process.

Another way to simplify work-related travel is to make sure that the expectations of the employee are clear, especially when it comes to validating a reimbursement. A well-prepared reimbursement documentation file will substantiate not only the amount, but the nature of the disbursement. By adding more documentation than required you can reduce the risk of improper reimbursements or audit findings. While there are many different things that could be included, the following cover the basics.

If district policy requires documentation of meals, ensure employees understand that itemized receipts are required by defining this in policy as a prerequisite for reimbursement. Travel reimbursement forms are excellent tools for determining and documenting mileage for the employee, and show clearly the calculation behind the reimbursement. Additionally, they require certification via signature from both the employee and their supervisor as an extra safeguard. When air travel is required, ensure a copy of the employee’s itinerary is retained. Including all of these elements as back-up for the travel reimbursement will help document that the reimbursement was valid and in the correct amount.

One of the most commonly missed items is detailed documentation such as a flyer or agenda from a conference or training attended by an employee. At the very least, requiring these documents will help confirm that the travel was for a school business purpose and that the conference was attended. However, there are other purposes and reasons to require employees to grab a flyer. For instance, the ADOA limit on lodging does not apply if the employee stayed at the hotel designated by the conference. Often, a document from the conference will confirm the hotel and support the amounts reimbursed or paid by the district above the ADOA maximum for lodging. School districts are not required to reimburse meals to employees if meals were provided during the conference. If no amount for lunch was reimbursed, a schedule from the conference will help support the amount reimbursed to the employee.

While employee travel can be very complicated, by increasing the level of detail in the policy manual and ensuring that employees understand which documents to retain – and why – the process can be streamlined, reimbursements can be processed more efficiently, and audit findings can be avoided.