N.O. charter school group spends almost $70K on staff retreat at casino

Published: May. 28, 2014 at 10:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS - Tens of thousands of state and federal dollars meant for professional education development were spent on rib eye steaks, a DJ, and hotel rooms at a Biloxi Casino.

An investigation with shows the four-day retreat cost charter organization Friends of Kings the same amount of money that was slashed from salaries at one of their two schools this year.

The Beau Rivage is a casino resort with views of the Mississippi Sound. It's known for its "royal accommodations," and its website describes it as "an elegant choice for meetings of all sizes."

It was the chosen destination for the charter management organization Friends of King to invite all of its approximately 180 employees to for a four-day retreat. For rooms, entertainment and food, the final price tag totaled more than $69,000.

Here's how the bills break down:

For one dinner, the charter organization paid $38 a person for what they called, a "classic Southern barbecue," which came complete with smoked St. Louis ribs and pulled pork.

Another night, in the hotel's Azalea room, the dinner tab reached $43 a person. Friends of King employees dined on rib eye steaks with garlic roasted shrimp, Caesar salads and, for desert, bread pudding with warm vanilla sauce.

For the four-night stay, the bill for catered meals and buffets alone came to $29,800.

The organization booked 101 rooms at a rate of $109 per night, which amounted to a $41,000 lodging bill.

Some of the professional development courses took place in the Magnolia Ballroom. Employees attended seminars such as "Paving the Way to College," and "Hand in Hand: Common Core and Whole Child Education."

Later, in the same room, the organization contracted a DJ to play during the "classic Southern barbecue" dinner.

The hotel billed Friends of King $3,700 for audio visual equipment.

The trip was open to all employees, from hall monitors to people like board attorney Tracie Washington.

FOX 8 reached out to Washington, but she refused to answer questions about the retreat.

Though professional development retreats are common, leaders of three other charter school organizations told they've never paid for any organization-wide professional development retreats out of state.

"Once, we had Common Core training at a synagogue in Metairie that we got for a very low cost," said Choice Foundation Executive Director Mickey Landry.

About one week after the Friends of King's more than $69,000 trip, the organization's CEO announced they were cutting salaries at one of their schools by 2 percent.

The cuts saved the organization about $70,000 , which is nearly the same amount spent on the four-day retreat.

Public records show most of the costs were paid from the general funds of Joseph A. Craig and Dr. King Charter School, as well as federal grants intended to help schools raise achievement among at-risk students and increase educator quality.

There are a few thousand dollars of discrepancy between how much the hotel billed the organization and how much was paid. The organization's spokesperson wouldn't answer our questions about the discrepancy.

To see all of the receipts that are accounted for, visit Lens Reporter Jessica William's story here.