Parents, Watchdogs Question Luxurious Educational Conference
Contact: Neil Mellen
South Carolinians for Responsible Government (SCRG)
Deep budgets cuts have forced schools to furlough, even fire, hundreds of classroom teachers.
That’s what frustrated parents of public school children across South Carolina have been told throughout the last eight months.
From the first signs of sinking state revenues in the fall of 2008, through to the week after lawmakers forced Governor Sanford’s hand and secured the full portion of federal stimulus funding, public education officials have insisted student achievement would suffer from tighten budgets
Now many of the local superintendents who led the fight for higher state and federal funding are drawing fire for their own lavish spending.
An elaborate six-day administrators conference began Sunday at the luxurious Kingston Plantation resort in Myrtle Beach. Critics are questioning how South Carolina’s Association of School Administrators (SCASA), a professional group funded through taxpayer-subsidized fees, benefits and contracts, can afford plush accommodations at the four-star hotel.
Details of the conference posted at the SCASA website include links to lavish hotel menus with filet mignon and lobster tail dinner entrees. Among the scheduled speakers are embattled Superintendent Thomas White of Spartanburg District Seven, who earlier in the year used public funds to pay for a membership in an elite private country club, and State Superintendent Jim Rex, who called under-performing high schools “dropout factories” at a speech in May. Other speakers represent private firms enjoying high dollar consulting and service contracts with public school districts and the State Department of Education.
The meeting, a series of events headlined by a “Leadership Institute,” has been condemned by watchdog groups for years, but the recent publicity of tightened school budgets makes the 2009 conference particularly controversial.
“With 73,000 students trapped in failing public schools and 122 high school students dropping out each day, we need to focus our precious public resources on teacher salaries and classroom supplies, not on pampering and retreats for bureaucrats,” remarked Randy Page, President of South Carolinas for Responsible Government.
SCASA has even set up a closed circuit TV feed so that superintendents and other educational bureaucrats can “participate” from their rooms at the hotel without actually walking down to the conference center.
Scrutiny of the conference is also bringing attention to the political activities of SCASA in and around the Statehouse in Columbia. The group, whose number one stated organizational objective is to “be recognized as the leading force for education” in the State, hires professional political lobbyists to influence the policy decisions of legislators. Members have played a major role in calling for higher educational spending with lower levels of accountability and oversight.
“SCASA is a group of high salaried public officials,” continued Randy Page, noting that most superintendents enjoy compensation packages well over $100,000.00 per year. “They ought not use public money to lobby lawmakers and certainly not use public money for indulgent vacations disguised as professional development.”