PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Pittsburgh School Board is demanding answers about an unauthorized trip to Cuba taken by the superintendent and four administrators.
According to district policy, all out-of-the-country travel must be approved by the full school board at a regular meeting, but until KDKA’s story aired Thursday night, board members were unaware that superintendent Anthony Hamlet and four other top administrators were guests of a district vendor for a two-day excursion to Cuba in April.
Now, the board has scheduled a special executive session on Monday to find out why they were not informed.
Solicitor Ira Weiss issued the following statement: “I am aware of the KDKA report regarding travel to Cuba by Dr. Anthony Hamlet and other district administrators over the spring break in April of this year. I am in the process of reviewing this matter and will consult with the board to determine the appropriate steps.”
“It just raises a lot of red flags,” Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb said.
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The fact that the trip was unauthorized is not the only concern. Hamlet and the administrators were guests of Captain Barrington Irving, who heads an organization called the Flying Classroom.
Flying Classroom just completed a $73,000 contract with the district and is looking to expand its role.
District policy prohibits any employee from taking gifts or anything of value “from any party doing business with the district or interested in doing business with the district.”
“If a vendor is paying the way, there’s an obvious kind of quid pro quo question there. Why is he doing that? Why is he fronting all that money? He’s clearly trying to get a contract, another contract, with the school district, and it just raises a lot of problems,” Lamb said.
Hamlet declined to be interview about the trip Friday, but KDKA has learned that the district paid $3,600 to fly him, Minika Jenkins, Jamie Griffin, Kendra Wester and Vince Scotto to Miami.
From there, Irving flew them to Cuba for what Hamlet described as “an expedition” involving “hands-on” learning. The activities included beach visits, snorkeling and cave diving, just like a group of educators from Virginia who took a similar trip to Cuba as guests of Irving.
The watchdog group A-Plus Schools urged the board Friday to conduct an exhaustive probe of the matter, saying, “The school board, elected to oversee the superintendent and public dollars, should conduct a thorough investigation of what occurred and, if necessary, take any and all appropriate corrective action based upon its findings.”