The 20th annual Model Schools Conference, hosted by the International Center for Leadership in Education, will be held June 24 through 27 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Florida and will feature a number of speakers, including Dr. Bill Daggett, who spoke to about 500 Cobb employees in January.
Hinojosa said the exact cost for the trip has not been determined, but he estimates a minimum of $2,000 per person — and up to $4,000 per person on the high side, depending on how many carpool, fly or share rooms at the conference. Registration is $451 per person, and Cobb’s staff will be staying at a less-expensive hotel with double-occupancy rooms for $159 per night, compared to the $239-per-night Gaylord Resort, where the conference will be based.
“This isn’t going to impact our general fund at all,” Hinojosa said. Instead, grant money and specified teacher-training funds will cover the bulk of the cost, he said. That money is still generated by taxpayers, though.
“We can’t use this money for teacher (salaries) at all, but we can use this money to make teachers better,” Hinojosa said. “We aren’t trying to hide anything. We have to change the way that we’re doing business. We have to start thinking differently. That’s why we’re doing this.”
At the conference, Hinojosa said, Cobb staff will be able to review research from 100 of the highest-performing and most-improved schools across the nation and get a chance to meet with staff from 25 of those schools, including ones in Maryland, Massachusetts and Kentucky.
“They are bringing these schools to Orlando so they can share what’s made them successful,” he said. “This conference is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, our principals and teachers to come meet with these schools that have been very successful. It would be impossible for us to go visit all these schools all over the country.”
Hinojosa said attending the conference will also help the district with its rewriting of the Strategic Plan, which is scheduled to be completed in July.
Of the 150 people projected to go, Hinojosa said 10 of them will be from the central office and include academic, technology and a couple of senior staff leaders. Hinojosa himself will not be making the trip, he said.
Hinojosa learned about the Florida conference in January when Daggett spoke to Cobb district employees, talks that cost the district more than $11,000.
He met Daggett through state Superintendent Dr. John Barge, but said Daggett has worked with Gov. Nathan Deal and serves on the advisory boards for NASA and USA Today.
“This guy has been (working in education) for a long time, so when we heard him, we said, ‘Wow! Our people need to hear him because things are really challenging and where are we going to go?’” Hinojosa said.
But the superintendent is aware that with the district looking at a $62 million budget deficit for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, there will be critics. Cobb will approve the FY2013 budget on May 17, and it tentatively calls for: cutting 350 positions; increasing class sizes by two students and the number of furlough days from two to five; reducing the number of work days from 180 to 175; delaying raises for half a year; eliminating 50 library positions; and taking $21.5 million from the $99 million in reserves.
“That’s the cost of doing business,” he said. “When you’re trying to do something to make the system better, you’re going to take a few hits.”
Still, leaders of local teacher associations were not very pleased with the idea of the conference.
John Adams, co-executive director of Educators First, said he had heard about it but was unaware of the scope of cost.
“While I appreciate the importance of staff development, at this time, given the budget crunch that the district is facing, spending potentially $450,000 to go to Florida would seem to me to be the wrong thing at the wrong time. … That money could potentially save nine or 10 teachers,” he said. “It just sends the wrong message, and it’s only going to further erode what little trust there is between teachers and the central office.”
Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said she hadn’t heard about the conference but it didn’t surprise her.
“In today’s climate, I would expect the district to seriously look at all expenditures for travel or conferences and whether they truly help the students,” she said. “Is that the best use of funds? Possibly, and possibly not. But I would expect someone to be able to seriously justify that expenditure, especially coming on the back of them going to Boston this week.”
Jackson said a more cost-effective idea might be to teleconference the sessions.
Hinojosa and school board member David Banks are in Boston this weekend to attend the National School Board Association Annual Conference.
That trip will cost about $4,000 total for both men to attend and is being paid for out of the district’s training and traveling budget. The conference is to feature speakers like CNN Correspondent Soledad O’Brien, and Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and not-for-profit organization.
Back in 2005, the Cobb district sent 54 people to a conference in Boston hosted by consultant Alan November. On that trip, an Atlanta TV station broadcast footage of principals and administrators lounging in the lobby of a hotel while classes were in session. The Journal, in its reports, also woke an area superintendent up in his room on an afternoon he was supposed to be attending a class session.
“You can never safeguard from that,” Hinojosa said. “But … I think the likelihood is less if their supervisor is going with them.”