Two charter organizations spent a total of $189,000 on out-of-state training

Published: Nov. 26, 2013 at 8:53 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS - Two charter organizations spent a combined $189,000 on professional development retreats.

While free professional development courses are available through organizations like New Schools for New Orleans, at least two charter school operators chose to head out of state to Casino resorts for their retreats.

Friends of King racked up a bill of nearly $70,000 at Beau Rivage in Biloxi.

The tab included rib-eye meals totaling $43 a person. The organization also spent money on a DJ and four-night room stays for up to 180 people.

The executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charters Schools Caroline Roemer Shirley told The Lens, "I applaud them around the professional development piece, but I will just say, couldn't you do that right here in New Orleans?"

"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."

A week after the retreat, Friends of King CEO Doris Roché-Hicks announced a two-percent pay cut for staff at one of their schools. That cut saved about as much as the retreat cost.

Another 185 educators embarked on an out of state retreat to Las Vegas for $119,000.

At $139 a night, KIPP New Orleans employees stayed at the Cosmopolitan. They joined more than 3,000 other KIPP employees from around the country for the The KIPP School Summit, which is held at in a different location each year.

Director of Advocacy and Communications for Kipp New Orleans Jonathan Bertsch told The Lens, "We think it's really important for teachers to connect with experts from around the country."

Bertsch expects the federal government's Title II program to reimburse the schools for most of the trip. Title II funds must be used to improve teacher quality, which includes professional development.

Friends of King used the federal grant as well, but also tapped into general funds from their two schools. The trip happened even after one of the schools, Joseph A. Craig Charter School, closed the 2012-13 year with a total deficit of $1.1 million.

Five other charter organizations in New Orleans told The Lens they've never had these types of trips before.

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

On top of the questionable spending, Caroline Roemer Shirley suggests Friends of King broke the law.

According to documents obtained by The Lens, eight of the organization's nine board members attended the retreat, but there was no public notice sent out before the meeting.

The head of the Louisiana Association of Charter Schools 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.