SLC Students are forced to use travel agent, even when it's not the best deal

SLC Students are forced to use travel agent, even when it's not the best deal. (Photo: KUTV)

When booking travel, most of us look for a bargain. But a Get Gephardt investigation finds that many school-ages kids don't get to bargain-shop. Their school district is forcing them to pay more.

Before student athletes can compete on the field, in the pool, or on the court -- they have to get to the field, pool or court. Often, that means fundraising to pay for things like hotels, buses and tournament entry fees.

Raising money can be a lot of work. Students, coaches and parents try to get the most bang out of every buck.

But the Salt Lake City School District is forcing its students to use a travel agent, even when doing so makes the travel cost skyrocket?

East High School Assistant Swimming Coach Jenn Mayer showed Get Gephardt the receipts from a recent tournament trip to Cedar City.

The travel agent was able to save $10 per room than what the team could get on its own, but after paying an extra $8 per head in travel agent fees, and with four kids per room, the rooms ended up costing $22.00 more by using the agent.

Obviously, nobody on the team wanted to use the agent, but the school district told them they had to.

Mayer protested, arguing that it’s not even district or taxpayer money.

"This is money that people have given to our teams, that the kids have worked hard to earn," she said.

Mayer argues that forcing students to pay more doesn’t make any fiscal sense, but the district disagrees.

"[The travel agents] also provide service beyond what a parent might book on their own through their own credit card or Expedia,” District Spokesperson Yándary Chatwin says.

Chatwin says that if there's an issue with a hotel, or travel plans needing to change, the travel agent will step in to help.

"It's an all-encompassing service,” Chatwin said. “I think it is a good idea to have one central location where everything is booked."

Even though it's money raised by the students, the district has decided it is worth the extra cost. Chatwin says that is the district's prerogative.

"According to Utah Code, money fundraised by an athletic team, school group, PTA, etc. is considered public money," she wrote in an email. "Although the students and their parents may have fundraised, the money is considered 'public funds' and is to be administered by the school or school district."

In the end, the East High swim team was able to get most of the extra fees waived for the Cedar City trip as a one-time exception.

The SLC School District refused to let KUTV film any video of the East High swimmers for this story. Chatwin said the district didn't want the students to be "used" for a story like this.

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