Lecture at the Ritz-Carlton cost Broward Schools $100,000
About 180 Broward School administrators traveled to Naples for a recent three-day retreat at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, costing taxpayers about $100,000.
The school district is reimbursing principals and vice-principals $259 per night for two nights at the five-star Ritz-Carlton, the host hotel for the 2022 Broward Principals and Assistants Association Leadership Retreat, the district spokesperson said, John Sullivan. It’s a practice that’s been around for seven or eight years, officials said.
Sullivan and an association representative say it was a weekend full of valuable leadership training. Critics see it as a taxpayer-subsidized trip.
“A sunny beach. Luxury spa treatments inspired by the garden and the sea,” boasts the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort website. “Exquisite dining influenced by the richness of the Gulf of Mexico. The unique challenge of 36 holes of championship golf. And a sunset you have to experience to believe.
Consider it luxury on a budget: the group rate of $259 was about half the published rate of $500-$600 per night for a summer weekend.
“It was cheaper than the Holiday Inn,” insists Lisa Maxwell, executive director of the Broward Principals and Assistants Association.
The association is a group that provides advocacy, education, and legal assistance to its dues-paying members.
District and association officials said the weekend provided solid professional development and team-building opportunities for attendees.
“Due to the demands of the school calendar, there are very few opportunities for district and school administrators to come together, in person, for leadership training and professional development,” Sullivan said. “It’s standard practice in many school districts to cover professional development costs for their administrators.”
But some wonder if the district subsidized a small amount of professional development sandwiched between large amounts of golf, pool time and parties. At a time when the district is trying to persuade voters to approve a tax hike to boost wages, safety and employee mental health, school board member Sarah Leonardi said the optics were wrong.
“We tell people that we don’t have money for things. Then we apparently find money for it,” Leonardi said.
Participants who were in Naples early on Friday July 22 were able to start the weekend with an organized golf outing. Conference registration opened at 3:00 p.m. with a reception at 6:00 p.m. and a “mystery masquerade” party from 9:30 p.m. to midnight, depending on the conference agenda.
Saturday morning began with breakfast at 8:15 a.m. Nancy Sulla, who has written several books on educational leadership, spoke at 9 a.m. for about an hour. There were professional development sessions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., depending on the agenda.
Sulla told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that her message focused on issues such as the academic, social and emotional challenges students have faced as a result of the pandemic and how administrators can help those students.
The period from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday was listed as free time on the agenda. An earlier agenda described the afternoon as a “pool day”.
A 6:30 p.m. dinner and party, where the dress code was all white, featured an address by Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. Photos from the event also show the presence of Assistant Superintendent Judith Marte. The evening ended with a domino tournament at 10 p.m., according to the agenda.
The only event listed on Sunday was a breakfast buffet from 8:15 a.m. to 11 a.m., but much of that time was spent on professional development, Maxwell said.
Leonardi said the schedule, which she reviewed, stands in stark contrast to the Florida School Board Association conferences she has attended, where agendas are packed from morning until lunchtime.
“The idea that we’re paying for people’s hotel rooms when there isn’t much on the agenda is just unacceptable,” she said. “There is so much scrutiny for others. Why do we pay for people to stay in a Ritz-Carlton and have masquerade parties? »
Sulla, who led some of the professional development sessions, said she didn’t feel the weekend skimped on learning.
“I’ve been impressed with the level of commitment that Broward’s managers and assistant managers have in their work,” she said. “I’ve been to conferences where everyone accepts the program so they can go to the pool. That couldn’t have been further from the truth here.
She said she discussed education and leadership strategies with administrators over the three days. “It’s sad to hear people think it was a waste,” Sulla said.
Maxwell said the event had a total of seven learning hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday.
“The only thing taxpayers paid for was hotel rooms,” she said. The administrators “were not reimbursed for their mileage. We collected all the money for the food.
The group of administrators obtained a number of sponsorships to offset the cost of programming.
Maxwell said the district paid all of the teachers’ expenses to attend the conferences, not just the accommodations.
“Make an Access to Information request to see how many [Broward Teachers Union] representatives are reimbursed,” she said.
However, BTU President Anna Fusco said they were not receiving any refunds. While some teachers make deals with their schools to cover conference costs, it has nothing to do with their union, she said.
Fusco said the district does not pay teachers to attend events hosted by employee groups, such as the National Education Association conference. BTU elected officials can get some travel expenses covered by the union, she said.
Fusco said the training could take place locally. If directors want to get away, retirement should be covered by the association or its members, not taxpayers, especially given the large blocks of time that don’t involve work, she said.
“I belong to a lot of organizations that have done real professional development, where you sit in 9-to-5 rooms and have homework and then have fun after hours,” Fusco said. “Let’s call it what it was. A prime getaway retreat.
The BTU and the Broward Principals and Assistants Association have been feuding for years, with BTU members complaining that some principals abuse teachers while principals complain that BTU members show up at schools without notice and cause disruption.
The feud escalated during the Naples retreat after trustees said they spotted BTU treasurer Kenny Minchew, wearing a sun hat and sunglasses, at a Ritz-Carlton restaurant taking photos of directors and their children.
“So BTU can barely get a 1% raise for teachers, but has no problem sending BTU board members all the way to Naples using BTU membership dues to hunt down directors and PAs at BPAA’s annual professional development retreat,” the group of directors tweeted on July 22. , including a picture of Minchew on his phone.
The band later tweeted, “Correction: BPAA has learned that BTU Treasurer Mr. Kenny Minchew has paid his own way to Naples.” Maxwell said the updated information came from Cartwright.
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Minchew could not be reached for comment. Fusco said the union was not involved in his decision to travel to Napoli.
“What he does on his weekend is his business,” Fusco said. “He has family around. We work hard all week. People take time. »
Two school board members, Patti Good and Nora Rupert, attended the event but paid their way, officials said. Rupert said she didn’t know the district paid for the directors’ attendance.
“The optics aren’t pretty,” she said. “When board members do professional development, we make sure we know the budget. However, this is not my meeting. If the district reimburses, it is a decision of the superintendent, not a decision of the school board.
Leonardi said she asked Superintendent Vickie Cartwright to stop paying for it in the future, but said she was told it was a school board decision.
This isn’t the first time a Naples Ritz-Carlton event has raised eyebrows. In 2015, the school board planned to hold a team-building retreat at another Ritz-Carlton in the city, but only informed the public about it through a legal announcement in the Miami Herald. After the Sun Sentinel learned of the trip, then-president Donna Korn defended it, saying the district got a good rate and it was best to meet out of town because members of the board would be less likely to be distracted or leave early.
After a series of criticisms, including a scathing Sun Sentinel editorial that quoted many lyrics from the song “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, the district called off the retreat.