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KIPP New Orleans Schools spent $120,000 on training in Las Vegas

KIPP New Orleans Schools spent about $119,000 to send 185 employees to an annual summit in Las Vegas this summer, around the same time as Friends of King Schools put out about $70,000 for an organization-wide retreat at the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi, Miss.

It also appears that the Friends of King retreat violated the state open-meetings law, which requires public notice if a quorum of a public body plans to meet to deal with business matters. Eight of the board’s nine members attended the four-day retreat; no notice was provided.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, head of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, questioned the charter schools’ decisions to spend so much on out-of-town training, especially when the state’s education funding has been stagnant in recent years.

That’s particularly concerning for Friends of King, she said, considering that one of its two schools closed the 2012-13 year with a deficit of $1.1 million.

A week after the retreat, King CEO Doris Roché-Hicks announced a 2 percent pay cut for staff at that school, Joseph A. Craig Charter School. That cut saved about as much as the retreat cost.

“I applaud them around the professional development piece, but I will just say, couldn’t you do that right here in New Orleans?” Shirley said. “This is a time where a lot of schools are struggling to make ends meet. I think that we need to be extremely careful with what we are doing with those dollars.”

KIPP New Orleans schools are in better shape financially. All of its nine schools finished 2012-13 with money in the bank, some with several hundred thousand dollars.

The KIPP School Summit, held at in a different location each year, attracts more than 3,000 KIPP employees from around the country. This year, it was held at the Cosmopolitan casino in Las Vegas from July 29 to Aug 1.

Leaders at each KIPP New Orleans school decide at the beginning of the year if they want to budget for the trip, said Jonathan Bertsch, director of advocacy for KIPP New Orleans.

He said 185 of the nearly 440 KIPP employees in New Orleans went to Las Vegas. Most were teachers and staff at KIPP’s middle and high schools, although some staff from the New Orleans central office also attended, Bertsch said.

Their rooms cost $139 a night. The Lens has a pending records request for expenses related to the KIPP School Summit.

Federal government pays for professional development

Bertsch said the trip and KIPP’s other professional development is key to the organization’s strategy. “We think it’s really important for teachers to connect with experts from around the country,” he said.

KIPP New Orleans expects the federal government’s Title II program to reimburse the schools for most of the trip’s $119,175 cost. Title II funds must be used to improve teacher quality, which includes professional development.

Friends of King Schools paid for its retreat out of the schools’ general funds, Title II money and Title I money, which is intended to improve education for disadvantaged students.

A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed that those federal grants can be used for professional development, although she said such expenditures must be “reasonable and necessary” and consistent with cost principles outlined in federal funding laws.

The Louisiana Department of Education’s Office of Federal Programs handles federal reimbursements to schools. The state generally gives school districts the autonomy to determine how they spend Title I and Title II money, spokesman Barry Landry said in an email.

Out-of-town trips common before Katrina

A former Orleans Parish School Board administrator said that simply taking an out-of-town retreat isn’t enough to raise his eyebrows.

Friends of King may have chosen the Beau Rivage, said Kenneth Ducote, now a charter-school consultant, because it had better meeting space or because it was cheaper than a hotel in New Orleans.

“You take out the word ‘casino’ and the notion of having a retreat, with all the staff engaged all the way up, with custodians and [everyone], it sounds like a real creative thing,” he said.

Similar out-of-town retreats were common in the parish school system before Hurricane Katrina, Ducote said, though they generally were limited to central-office staff and the top administrators at each school.

In the late 1970s, Ducote said, annual management retreats took place in Baton Rouge. But schools’ tight budgets and the lower lodging rates of the casinos eventually sparked a move to places like Biloxi.

The Principals Association of New Orleans Public Schools, a group of principals that eventually became the local chapter of the American Federation of School Administrators, generally coordinated such events, he said. Roché-Hicks is a former president of the principals association.

However, officials with five other charter organizations in New Orleans said they’ve never had staff-wide, out-of town retreats such as this one. Neither has Harlem-based Democracy Prep, a high-performing network of schools that plans to expand to Louisiana in the coming years.

Can such training be done locally?

Shirley said she hoped that KIPP and Friends of King evaluated their options to see if they could “do something of equal level of professional development locally.” That would depend in part on whether the schools could get the same caliber of speakers for a local event.

One of the 2013 KIPP School Summit speakers, high school teacher and San Francisco State University professor Jeff Duncan-Andrade, was the keynote speaker at the Louisiana charter school association’s daylong conference in Baton Rouge in September.

Other summit speakers included Sal Khan of the educational website Khan Academy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and KIPP co-founder Dave Levin.

The summit was titled “Rising to the Challenge.” Topics of the 270 sessions included publicizing KIPP’s mission, integrating Common Core principles into teaching, and using blended learning techniques in classes.

The theme of the Friends of King Schools retreat was “Reflect! Recharge! Renew! Common Core and Whole Child Education.”

Most of the training sessions were led by Friends of King employees, including:

  • “Using Data to Focus Instructional Improvements,” led by Dr. King Charter School High School Principal Lindsey Moore

  • “The State of Education: Where Do We Go From Here,” a panel discussion with Moore and eight other employees

  • “Hand in Hand: Common Core and Whole Child Education,” led by three district employees

  • “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: Stopping the Cycle of Violence,” led by two district employees

  • “Support Staff Basic Training,” a session led by Artis Hicks, Roché-Hicks’ husband and a community director and manager at Dillard University

Other speakers included Ann Duplessis, senior vice president of Liberty Bank and newly instated president of the Louisiana Federation for Children, and Larry Alexander, a deputy network leader with the Louisiana Department of Education.

In addition to the $41,000 spend on the hotel rooms, the charter organization spent about $30,000 on meals, including catered meals of ribeye steak for board members and school leaders and a barbecue for the entire staff.

Friends of King didn’t provide public-meetings notice for retreat

State public-meetings law requires 24-hour public notice before a meeting, which includes gatherings of a quorum of the members to receive information related to matters under its supervision.

Eight of the nine board members for Friends of King attended the retreat, according to records provided by the charter organization. The agenda describes a Sunday workshop specifically for the board.

But the organization doesn’t appear to have posted notice on the school’s website, and the retreat isn’t included in the list of meetings for the year. Despite repeated requests for such notices, The Lens didn’t receive anything. State law requires members of the media to be informed if they request it.

None of the KIPP New Orleans board members attended the summit in Las Vegas.

Shirley said she’s disappointed that Friends of King broke the law, especially considering that its attorney, Tracie Washington, has advocated adherence to public meetings laws in the past.

“Someone who is from the legal community, someone who has thought herself to be a leader of the people, is not really practicing that in respect to her clients,” Shirley said.

In January, state stiffened enforcement of rules for governance and performance at charter schools. That came almost two years after the state’s legislative auditor first reprimanded the Recovery School District for being too lax in school oversight.

Since these stricter rules for schools have been in effect, New Beginnings Network is the only organization to be cited for failing to follow open meetings law.

Repeated violations of the law can lead to more state intervention, up to and including charter contract revocation.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Lisa Felton

    Jessica, why are they not headlining The Lens ? Will they be on a banner soon? How can you compare Vegas to Biloxi? Have you done public requests on KIPP? Are you going to sit and research their records? You did a story on another school but talked about the FOKS throughout THEIR story. You failed to state the Louisiana State Department of Education officials who presented at the retreat. How do you know for sure that a public notice was not posted? Come on Jessica, I know your career is not with the Lens. You must do a better job in order to advance your career.

  • Lisa Felton

    In education, its great to use your OWN educators to educate. Kudos to King for not paying additional expenses for out of town presenters. Many of the best educators are at King and Craig.

  • Lisa Felton

    Thank you Jessica. I do see a statement about a public records request.

  • Sidney Love

    Looking at the KIPP schools and their performance in New Orleans, this money should have been used for additional tutoring. What made this district fly all staff members to Las Vegas? The last time I checked, Vegas is full of casinos. Will this make Channel 8’s reporting?

  • Sidney Love

    If KIPP keeps spending money on high end trips, they will be in a financial crisis. Maybe they should have attended Beau Rivage in Mississippi for their retreat, Biloxi sounds much better than Las Vegas.

  • No Comparison

    Why did KIPP take the employees all the way to Vegas? This sounds very fishy. I can’t wait to see the report on their requested documents. Hmmmm

  • nickelndime

    Leslie Jacobs has been advocating for KIPP way back when – when Pastorek was a BESE member and later when he became the Superintendent of Education for the State of Louisiana. Edison was another favorite of Paul and Leslie’s, as was SABIS. Edison retreated from the state in financial disrepair (e.g., Wilson, Intercultural Charter School), and where is Pastorek now? Pastorek did not and will never have the money that Leslie has, but at least friend Sean O’Keefe made sure that Pastorek had a job. That’s a lot more than the trail that Pastorek left behind him. Leslie (# 9 of the top 400 contributors to Jindal) contributed $750,000. Then Leslie and Scott Jacobs (#64/400) contributed another $213,300 to Jindal. That wasn’t enough. Stephen Rosenthal (brother of Leslie Jacobs) and Sandy (#117 of 400) contributed $117,045. Stephen is a board member (treasurer – well, why not?) of FirstLine (a State-favorite for running RSD charters). Again, not enough. Stephen serves on yet another board of an RSD charter group (conflict of interest?). Stephen is a longtime friend of Jay Altman (another whose salary as CEO runs into the 6-figure salary range). Why I am bringing this up? Because how does one report on the corruption of one without bringing everybody else down? One at a time. That’s it – one starfish at a time. And oh yeah, Stephen Rosenthal is on the Board of THE LENS (well, I will give him props on that).

  • Can someone comment on if the religious schools do any out-of-town training?

    And should kids be taught that CASINOs, gambling, video poker, and the lottery are “good things” via having training at a casino resort?

    I don’t see any long term benefits for students from gambling or learning how to gamble in America, do you?

  • boathead12

    Wow have you done your homework. Is this your day job? Thanks.

    A question for you and for Jessica regarding these Title I and II funds. Do I understand correctly that this is federal money of the “use it or lose it” flavor? So if KIPP and FOKS and probably others were to have spent less lavishly on their “professional development” it would have simply meant that the feds would have had less to reimburse, for a savings at the USDOE level, but no savings for Louisiana. Is it correct to say that there is no way this Title I or II money could have been preserved so that it would have a direct impact on children’s education?

    Sidney Love has just joined the conversation. Is he correct in saying “this money should have been used for additional tutoring.” Or is that not possible due to statute?

  • Lovin life

    AhContraire, there is not law preventing these schools for attending casinos. This is why KIPP selected to travel so far.

  • Lovin life

    boathead12, the money is used for professional development. The law does not prevent a school from traveling with the United States. The money was used to train educators.

  • Lovin life

    NickelIndime, Jay Altmans best friend is the CEO of the Algiers Charter Association. They are also gromming Kelly Batiste of Fannie Williams Charter School to work for FirstLine and she is also expected to make 6-figure salary. CEO Mitchell of City Park Academy makes 6 figures and this school is holding on by a thread. Reynolds of McCoy is making 6 figures and they are a failing school. People flocked here for the love of money. I know some schools where the office secretary is making well over $60.000.

  • Lovin life

    Sidney Love, I agree. The Vegas trips and the high end salaries at KIPP are too much.

  • Lovin life

    Lisa, I bet they will share the banner. I would love to know what they actually spent their money on in Vegas.

  • Lovin life

    I can’t wait to see the salaries on ALL RSD employees. Jessica, why is it taking you so long to investigate the RSD from 2006 to now. There is an enormous amount of information there.

  • Lovin life

    Las Vegas, really?????

  • Does anyone know if schools admins, teachers and students are taught how to use public money, wisely?

  • sbeattyTheLens

    Hi Nickelndime,

    Stephen Rosenthal isn’t on The Lens’ board of directors. Here’s our lineup:

    I’ve met Stephen a couple of times, but I’ve never discussed education with him and he doesn’t guide or influence our coverage here.

    Steve Beatty
    Editor of The Lens

  • Lovin life

    AhContraire, it depends on the schools. The State Dept of Education must follow-up. I think KIPP is planning their Retreat now to Hawaii.

  • Lovin life

    Hello Mr. Beatty, do you know anything about KIPP going to Hawaii for their next retreat?

  • Why not book one of the cruise ships going out of New Orleans?

  • nickelndime

    Hi Nickelndime,
    Stephen Rosenthal isn’t on The Lens’ board of directors. Here’s our lineup:
    I’ve met Stephen a couple of times, but I’ve never discussed education with him and he doesn’t guide or influence our coverage here.
    Steve Beatty
    Editor of The Lens

    I will not comment on FOKS b/c I do not have personal knowledge of “wat tha FOKS!” is, HOWEVER, I have said repeatedly (over the past year) that Stephen Rosenthal (BoardOfDirectors – BOD – of RSD-FirstLine and other nonprofit d/b/a RSD charter school boards, brother of Leslie Jacobs, and “friends of others,” albeit not Friends of King Schools) is a board member of THE LENS. And I gave Stephen Rosenthal props for that – being a THE LENS Board member and all (because I believe that strongly in what THE LENS is doing and what it has done). Initally, I was disappointed when I learned that Rosenthal was on THE LENS BOD, but still… (the real world). Now, Mr. Steve Beatty informs me that Stephen Rosenthal is NOT on THE LENS BOD! OMG! Did I dream this up – at least over the last 12 months – only to be informed otherwise??? This is the ONLY thing that I could have given Stephen Rosenthal, and Sandy (#170 of Jindal’s #400 at $117,045), credit for (i.e., props), and now I have been informed otherwise?!! But I must ask, has Stephen Rosenthal ever been a member of THE LENS’ BOD? On my word, I will not hold this against THE LENS and its stated mission. One final question though, how could anyone, including a member of THE LENS have met with Rosenthal and the question (?) of public education NOT come up?!!!

  • Lovin life

    AhContraire, I agree..

  • nickelndime

    (Charter Schools): The use of federal money *Title funds) to pay for Professional Development – PD – is not where the real theft and larceny is occuring. $70,000, $150,000 is chicken feed. Why, these nonprofits wash that amount down the drain for liquid soap in their board room lavatories (and in the schools they manage). Look at the individuals on these charter boards who have their hands in the till legally and make the big decisions for the poor and the middle class in this city who bear the weight of their lavish lifestyles and flawed decisions (academic, financial, human resources, facilities, etc.). Shall I name some of them? They (i.e., individuals, corporations, firms) have already been named by others who have done the work to expose them. I cannot take credit for that (“Top 400 contributors” to Jindal; Unpaid ethics fines, etc.). What should be investigated further is how the State of Louisiana and particular nonprofits manage to secure millions of dollars in federal funds to further their own personal and business agendas (Adams and Reese, LLP, New Schools for New Orleans – NSNO, the State of Louisiana RSD, Stephen Rosenthal-FirstLine, Algiers Charter School Association-ACSA…). When decisions are made that affect the public and it is paid for with public money (local, state, and federal) then it is incumbent on those entities (e.g., FBI, U.S. Attorney, etc.) with the resources, time, and personnel to scrutinize the operations of these groups and enforce the ethical and legal operation of same. And that includes scrutiny by the funding sources (LDOE, USDOE, OPSB) which administer the funds.

  • RampartStreet

    It’s a lot cheaper to bring the trainers to the educators than vice versa. There simply is no pedagogical justification for spending 100K+ to fly 100+people to Las Vegas.

    And in addition; these are the same folks who push time in the computer lab as sufficient for teaching students. If it’s good enough for students, why isn’t it good enough for staff? They could have done precisely the same thing with their staff training and not spent one thin dime extra for it, since they already have the computers. That would have freed up the (very large number of) $$$ for the benefit of their students instead of the entertainment of their staff, but they chose not to do that.

    This stinks, and it’s precisely this sort of financial profligacy which makes people justifiably suspicious of charter schools in New Orleans.

  • RampartStreet

    Good grief, Lovin Life, the fact that it’s not illegal doesn’t make it right.
    Spend the $$$ on the kids and not the grownups. I mean, that’s what they’re here for; right? Right?

  • RampartStreet

    Why not have it AT THE SCHOOL SITE for free?

  • RampartStreet

    If the old NOPS leadership had spent a bundle of $$$ to take staff to Vegas for a “retreat” it would have been cited by charter advocates as evidence of the corruption and inefficiency of a dying system, but….

  • Bill Macbeth

    While you are asking for records, you might want to ask for the previous years, too. What about the last 4 or 5 years that KIPP went to their Summit? Last year it was in Orlando. $120,000 is bad, but I wonder how much it adds up to over the past several years?

  • Jessica Williams

    Hi Lovin Life,

    The next KIPP School Summit will be held in Houston, TX:

  • RampartStreet

    More than a few observers have noted a similarity between KIPP’s methods and those utilized by cults to maintain conformity among their adherents while ostracizing those who question those methods. It would be interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the discussions were held about who would get to go to Vegas and who wouldn’t. Were the choices based purely on staff development considerations, or was there also an element of rewarding the faithful?

    I googled KIPP + cult and this is what came up;

  • nickelndime

    Does anybody in this audience remember Chandra Cook (from Harvard) who was the founder of an RSD charter school in New Orleans (proposal was evaluated by the NACSA) and then recommended for approval (by BESE)? Pastorek was the Superintendent of Education. If any of you do, then do you also remember that Professional Development was conducted in Jamaica and each staff member was given a $7,000 debit card?!! OMG! OMG! I am off my chair because everytime I read about PD expenditures in charter schools, I am reminded about how the RSD covered for the mishap by putting another nonprofit in place (and that fixed everything). Yeah rite!

  • nickelndime

    Hey kneauxla, I would like to say that all of the post(s) by nickelndime are true because I am nickelndime and I made them, and except for the nickelndime statement that Stephen Rosenthal is a board member of THE LENS, which Steve Beatty informed me that Rosenthal isn’t, then I stand by all of my statements, absolutely 100%. BTW, I think Alan RampartStreet is correct in so many things that he has written, but especially in regard to bringing PD to the people rather than sending the people to PD. In a past life (Ha!), the OPSB and Jefferson Parishes had many excellent PD individuals make presentations to teachers. I also think that many charter school nonprofits (and their 6-figure management teams) and charter management organizations (CMOs), such as, ACSA, KIPP, etc. are taking advantage of young people (almost equivalent to indentured servants) and cultivating them with culturistic techniques.

  • boathead12

    Despite the nonsense blathered on the comments section by so many, I’m beginning to understand this and I’m changing my opinion.

    Nicklendime, Jessica Williams, please read below. Can you confirm or elaborate upon my understanding?

    These Title I and II funds are ONLY to be used for teacher professional development. One might even see these funds as an alternative salary/bonus to supplement the meager salaries of teachers. This money is federal funds, and if clever attorneys and accounts get into the scheme, it can be used for any reasonable professional development anywhere within the United States.

    IFF (if and only if) that assessment is correct, then I say good for KIPP and FOKS for taking advantage of the system in a way that directs a reward to their teachers and staff at no expense to their schools or to the Louisiana Department of Education. Until the federal law changes, perhaps administrators from every other Charter in town should be taking notes from the way that these schools have handled it.

    Look at this, KIPP got their teachers some R&R, got to hear do Q&A and possibly meet Chris Christy and the founder of Kahn Academy! For a price of approximately $1500 per staff member, fully funded by the federal government! Looking at it that way, I’m impressed. Now FOKS listened to a minister/legislator for a bit less money per staffer, which is much less impressive, but aparantly perfectly leagl. Administrators at other charter schools need to pay attention to this and get some of the same for their staff.

  • Lovin life

    I want to see The Lens investigate the RSD and other schools. New articles, please.

  • nickelndime

    By george, geomeo, you’ve got it. You’ve got it all. I feel exhilirated (check the spellling). Hahahahhaaa! Periodically, I fall off my chair and roll on the floor, LOL.
    And this part is directed to boathead12: I love boathead12’s honesty and contributions, especially the questions and the thought processes. Charter management groups (CMOs), such as KIPP and yes, even the local FOKS people [I have to hold my breath as I type this one. WTF! (tongue in cheek)] use what works, i.e., “the system” (IOW, they work the system) to take advantage of others (primarily teachers and students) at public expense. It’s like giving trinkets to the natives, blankets to the indians, albeit not infested with smallpox, but damaging nevertheless. Now, these groups (KIPP, FOKS, FirstLine, NOCP, etc.) and their expensive legal counsel will profess to be doing otherwise, but don’t let that fool you. Race and ethnicity have nothing to do with it. They are in it for the money, and they have done quite well financially. Teachers and students are the means by which they get the money, i.e. how they get paid. Be advised, however, that these individuals should not be held up as either national or community role models whom others should wish to emulate unless one’s primary interest is making money (millions) at others’ expense.

  • nickelndime

    Boathead12 – I hope you read the entire post that starts off with, “By george, geomeo, you’ve got it…,” cuz you are in it. Go boathead12. I like your style.

  • semidu

    I hesitate to comment, but I will. Boathead12, thanks for your accurate investigation of how these funds work. As a teacher who has attended quite a few out of town professional development opportunities using Title I and II funds I am glad you have introduced some clarity, and real education into the ridiculousness that is this comment section. Why would anyone have a problem with using Tittle I and II funds for first class professional development that can benefit our students and our community? The title of this story seems scandalous, which is unfortunate, because it is a distraction from the real issues we need to be discussing in the education community.

  • Teacher

    As a KIPP teacher, just a few points to clarify:

    1) The majority of expenses for the trip were paid for by the individuals attending. While hotels were booked by KIPP, most meals, airfare and ground travel were paid by individuals. Think about this logically — 185 employees totaling $120,000 means that they paid <$650 per employee. How on earth can you get airfare, hotels, meals, meeting space, materials, books, speakers, etc. for a week in Vegas for under $650 per person? Clearly staff paid for MUCH of their own expenses.
    2) Much of the funding for the trip comes from KIPP Foundation (national), not from KIPP New Orleans. They paid for all of the trainers, presenters, etc.
    3) As all 100+ KIPP schools from across the country attended, a single location. Years past were much closer (Nashville, Orlando), as will future years (Houston).
    4) Research the rates for week-long conferences for educators. Comparable professional development would cost EASILY over $1000 per person for registration alone, easily $1500-2000 including airfare and hotel. $650 isn't too bad in comparison.
    5) Having the week in Hawaii is not on the table, nor has it ever been. With 3000 teachers attending from around the country, it needs to be someplace where airfare is affordable and Hawaii is NOT that place.

  • Kirk Thomas

    KIPP is a national network that sends its employees out of town every summer. Of course it would cost more to send people from New Orleans to Vegas, rather than neighboring Mississippi. It will be in Houston this year. It will not be as much $$$$. Based off of New Orleans educational past, it is great to learn from teachers around the country.

  • nickelndime

    That’s right, KIPP is a national network that sends its “employees” out of town every year (summits). And yes, Houston is the hot spot this year, with Mary J. Blige concert tickets. What do KIPP “employees” have to do with credentialed, tenured, vested, PRAXIS-tested, licensed, certified “teachers” and teaching at-risk students in this city? Uh? NOTHING! Some people have referred to KIPP’s employee training methods as cultist and dressed-up indoctrination. What do you think? Have you read the 8-month old posts?