Two charter organizations spent about $250,000 on out-of-state professional training

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Algiers Charter School Association employees have taken professional-development trips to Las Vegas; Point Clear, Ala.; and Orlando, Fla., in recent years, costing a total of $113,000.

And KIPP New Orleans Schools spent $133,000 on its last professional-development trip to Las Vegas, more than the $119,000 that the organization originally disclosed.

Including a Friends of King Schools trip to the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, which cost about $70,000, these organizations have spent $316,000 on out-of-town training — mostly in the last year.

From the documentation provided, it doesn’t appear that quorums of the KIPP or Algiers Charter Schools boards were present at those functions — meaning that these were not official meetings that, by law, must be open to the public.

In contrast, the public was not notified about a Friends of King Schools retreat in Biloxi last August, though a quorum — seven of nine members, plus the board attorney — was present.

KIPP expects most of its Las Vegas trip costs to be reimbursed through Title II funding, which are federal dollars intended to improve teacher quality. The schools could use their general funds to pay the rest, but KIPP Director of Advocacy Jonathan Bertsch said private donations probably will cover it.

Nineteen trips by various Algiers charter school employees were funded by Title II and other federal grants, as well as the schools’ general funds. Five of those were out-of-state.

It’s legal to use federal education funds for professional development. Title II funds can be used for a variety of purposes, staff training among them. Title I funds, which are meant to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children, also may be used for this sort of teacher training.

It’s also legal for school employees to attend retreats out of town. But Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, has questioned the wisdom of spending money to travel out of town while state education funding is tight.

Adrian Morgan, chief executive officer of the Algiers charter group, said his staff haven’t taken any out-of-state professional development trips since August 2012, when he took charge. However, he said, it is “absolutely necessary to travel from time to time.”

For example, “visiting high-quality schools is always a great thing,” he said. “Obviously you have to go to the school to see it in action.” Travel also may be required to hear from experts on certain topics, he added.

In past years, the KIPP School Summit, the national professional development retreat attended last summer by 185 KIPP New Orleans employees, has been held in Orlando, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. This summer, it will be in Houston.

Algiers Charter School Association staff went to Vegas and Orlando

Records requested by The Lens show that out-of-state travel indeed has been curtailed under Morgan’s leadership, but plenty happened before he took charge. And travel within Louisiana has been extensive.

The staff of Martin Behrman Charter School Academy for Creative Arts and Sciences went to the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa in Point Clear, Ala., May 26-28, 2011. The Grand has a 20,000-square-foot European spa, 10 tennis courts, two golf courses and a marina.

At a cost of roughly $26,000, faculty discussed “reflective practice” in education and attended sessions titled “Body,” “Mind,” and “Spirit.” They came up with a plan of action for the upcoming school year and listened to sessions from Behrman counselors and school administrators.

Behrman chartered a bus from Blue Diamond Tours for the three-hour drive the Grand Hotel, at a cost of $2,750. The school booked 31 rooms, paying $291 a night after taxes and fees.

Unlike one of Friends of King’s schools, Behrman was not running a deficit at the time staff took their trip.

A breakdown of the costs for the Point Clear trip:

  • Bus transportation: $2,750

  • Lodging and room charges: $18,063.92

  • Catering: $2,958.42

  • Miscellaneous: $2,527.27

In May 2011, 21 employees of Algiers Technology Academy and Alice M. Harte Charter School went to Las Vegas for the annual conference of the National Council on Educating Black Children. The total cost for airfare, registration, and lodging at the Rio, a casino resort off the Las Vegas Strip, came to about $26,000:

  • Airfare: $11,646.66

  • Lodging: $6,437.76

  • Conference registration: $7,875

In 2011, five employees from Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies attended the Scholastic READ 180 National Summer Institute, a training session aimed at teachers who use the institute’s reading-intervention software.The event was held July 24-29, 2011, at the Peabody Hotel and Resort in Orlando, Fla.

The total cost for registration, lodging, and airfare was $10,587:

  • Lodging: $4,453

  • Registration: $3,870

  • Airfare: $2,264

Another professional development conference cost about $13,000. That time, eight Eisenhower employees went to a conference in Los Angeles and stayed at a J.W. Marriott Hotel. The conference, put on by the Success For All Foundation, trained educators who use its school-improvement model.

The breakdown of costs for the Los Angeles trip:

  • Lodging: $4,690.40

  • Registration: $5,040

  • Airfare: $3,136.80

And Edna Karr High School teachers went on a trip to Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Memphis, Tenn., from June 14-18, 2012. The trip, which cost $29,500, was funded by a federal program for history teachers, now discontinued.

Documents provided to The Lens do not show a detailed breakdown of costs:

  • Total trip costs: $29,500

  • History materials for teachers: $8,118.75

KIPP’s Vegas expenses detailed

Documents provided by KIPP NEW Orleans Schools show the organization spent more than previously disclosed on a trip to Las Vegas last summer.

In November, Bertsch told The Lens that the charter organization had spent $119,175 to send employees to KIPP’s national professional development conference from July 29 to Aug. 1.*

The actual figure was $133,316. Bertsch said he calculated the new number after going through the expenses again.

About 185 of KIPP New Orleans’ 440 employees roomed at the Aria Resort and Casino at a cost of $76,775. Of these, 150 employees were reimbursed about $300 apiece for airfare, which totaled $44,110. Another $12,430 in credit card charges — for meals, business center expenses and taxi cabs, among other things — brought the cost to $133,316.

The breakdown for that trip:

  • Credit card charges: $12,430.91

  • Airfare reimbursements: $44,110

  • Lodging charges: $76,775.78

*Correction: This story originally had the incorrect dates for the KIPP national conference. The error has been corrected. (Jan. 27, 2014)

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