San Diego, Miami, Puerto Rico and Honolulu? Why all this travel by school officials in Newark? | Editorial | Tech US News


Over an 8-month period this year, the Newark school district sent staff to conferences in Las Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, Atlanta, Palm Springs, Puerto Rico and Honolulu, according to travel expenses approved by the school board and posted online .

The board itself is also taking trips to nice and sunny places. Eight of its nine members attended a conference in San Diego in April, along with Superintendent Roger León and his chief of staff, records show. And at least seven members are scheduled to go to a conference in Miami in December with Leon, his chief of staff and the district attorney, rescheduled from September because of Hurricane Ian.

The topics of these conferences range from academic and school safety to networking and leadership training, through dance or physics, and others that are more difficult to identify. Is the district wasting money on vanity trips while your kids struggle academically? We don’t know, because Newark’s secretive school board and superintendent won’t discuss it. Even getting basic numbers on spending is like pulling teeth, which makes us suspicious.

Yes, there may be perfectly good reasons for all this spending, and certainly other districts spend money on travel. No one keeps a complete list. But what stands out about Newark is the large volume of travel, and the refusal to talk about it. That is worrying.

It is perfectly fair for Newark taxpayers to wonder why they need to send someone to Palm Springs, Puerto Rico and Hawaii, and at least ten people to both San Diego and Miami. He also underlines the concern about León’s performance and why he hides in secrecy.

This is happening as the district is struggling with a huge drop in state test scores from last spring: Only 13 percent of students can do math at grade level and 27 percent are reading at grade level, after that the pandemic had a great academic impact. . The district is also struggling to recruit and retain teachers, union president John Abeigon says.

“In the current situation, they shouldn’t be going anywhere,” was his reaction. “The city’s education system is obviously, according to state tests, in crisis. We are in recovery mode. There are no conferences you need to go to at this time. And it’s a slap in the face for teachers who have to plan months in advance to document and rationalize, in a five-page application, a trip to the zoo on the turtle’s back.”

Newark’s elected school board, which just regained full control of the district from the state in July 2020 and has been reluctant to publicly challenge the superintendent, approved all of this travel spending and its members refuse to discuss it either. That does not inspire confidence.

Vin Gopal, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said this is the first he has heard of this, but he will look into it. “Every district needs to be as transparent as possible about how every tax dollar is spent,” he said.

It’s not up to the public to imagine the reasons why five employees had to go to a women’s empowerment summit at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas in March, what it specifically had to do with advancing the education of Newark’s children, and why it should be . on the public dollar.

Or, in the month of April, why almost the entire school board needed to go to San Diego; four district officials had to attend a gym teacher convention in New Orleans; four others were sent to a conference at the La Concha Resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico; one employee went to sunny Florida and two traveled to Palm Springs, travel records show.

Or why the district had to send a district official to Honolulu in June for a University of Hawaii International Conference. Etc.

“You’re suggesting that something was inappropriate on the trip when you know we haven’t determined the locations of the conference,” said spokeswoman for both the superintendent and the board, Nancy Deering.

For the record, we are not “suggesting” anything – we are stating facts about travel spending and asking the board to explain to taxpayers and parents.

The board and superintendent are “very focused” on the mission of providing “a rigorous and culturally sensitive instructional program that prepares each student for success, builds knowledge, strengthens character, cultivates ingenuity and fosters leadership,” Deering added. “All of the trips, like all of our schools’ initiatives, are aimed at furthering that mission.”

Let’s face it: places like these raise a certain amount of eyebrows in the community, issues that are unlikely to be highlighted by the district’s stone wall. That’s legit, given the history here. Remember why the state had to take over this district in the mid-1990s: school officials were running it for the benefit of adults, not students. They were attending conferences at tropical resorts in places like Hawaii and splurging on lavish meals in the district, while buildings collapsed and test results were dismal.

That need not define Newark today. But trust requires transparency. Newark schools were showing amazing improvements before the pandemic, and to maintain progress, the board must be operating openly and communicating. If you send someone to a conference at a beachside hotel, explain exactly what the benefit is to the children of Newark.

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