PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — KDKA’s investigation has sparked a debate in the Pittsburgh Public School District. Was it necessary for the district to spent $306,000 last year on trips across the country and over the ocean, a staggering $28,000 a month?
Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet says all of it advanced the district aims of improving professionalism and academic achievement.
“When we say travel, we’re talking about professional development conferences and workshops that we go to. This is not something we’re going to, sitting on the beach and having a good time. This is work,” said Dr. Hamlet.
But while Dr. Hamlet said the district spends far on travel than other urban districts, school board member Terry Kennedy is calling for reform, saying the money would be better spent in the classroom.
“The trips need to be scrutinized, the requests. We should send fewer people. I think a lot could be accomplished by having one person at places instead of multiple people,” Kennedy said.
In KDKA’s report, we found board member Sylvia Wilson took trips last year to Denver and New Orleans, along with board president Regina Holley who went to Jacksonville, Washington DC and Baltimore. The year before, she went to Boston, Miami and Seattle.
But what was most surprising were international trips.
The district sent 15 district staff members to a conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 2016 at a cost of $23,017. And, in May of last year, the district sent six staffers to another conference in Dublin, Ireland, at a cost of $11,600.
Dr. Hamlet: “We do a great job being strategic in our approach to our professional development and what that means, so we don’t send a plethora of people out.”
KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “You sent 15 people to Costa Rica. You sent six people to Dublin, Ireland. That’s a lot of people.”
Dr. Hamlet:“Maybe to you, but that was based on what was required at the time.”
And there’s the question of superintendent’s own travel.
Since becoming superintendent in June of 2016, Dr. Hamlet has taken trips to Miami, Florida; Oakland, California; Vancouver, British Columbia; Los Angeles, California; New Orleans, Louisiana; Washington, D.C., and three trips to Chicago, Illinois. All at a cost of $16,423.
Dr. Hamlet says these trips advance his own expertise, keeping him abreast of best practices in education.
Sheehan: “Respectfully doctor, people would say you come here with expertise. Is it necessary for you to be flying all over the country this many times to gain additional expertise? Shouldn’t you have that already coming in here?”
Dr. Hamlet: “It’s interesting you should say that. I was just talking to the legislators, and having them understand that as our children should embrace the notion of continuous improvement and continuous learning, so should adults. You’re learning should never cease and never stop. Because this is an ever-evolving industry, we need to continue to be the cutting edge of what our students need.”
“I think he needs to be here,” said Kennedy. “I don’t think we as taxpayers should be paying for him to be putting time and effort into being the liaison or sitting on these other committees, whatever you want to call them, and they’re not officially boards. But I think from a taxpayer’s point of view, we paying him to manage out district not to be on all these,”