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Trips to Tampa for Conference Cost APS $20K

FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported that Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks was not a presenter at a Council of Great City Schools conference in Tampa, Fla. Brooks actually made numerous presentations at the conference. Incorrect information was provided to the Journal.

By Hailey Heinz
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Ten members of Albuquerque Public Schools staff and four school board members are in Tampa, Fla., this week, attending a conference put on by the Council of Great City Schools.
        The cost is about $20,000, much of which will come from the district's main operating budget. It was unclear Thursday whether some of the money might come from capital or special education funds, as some of the employees attending the conference work in special education and capital departments.
        The conference, which began Wednesday and wraps up Sunday, has a focus on large, urban districts, and includes sessions on evaluating teachers, school finance, school turnarounds, charter schools, instructional coaching, bilingual education and other topics.
        One session is titled "How Urban School Districts Are Navigating the Financial Abyss."
        The agenda also includes evening festivities like a "Game Night" on Thursday night and a "Karaoke Night" tonight.
        Keynote speakers include Gwen Ifill, correspondent on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and actor Hill Harper, who appears on "CSI: NY" and has worked to provide encouragement and guidance to young black men.
        APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said district officials are aware of the tough budget times the district faces.
        "APS is extremely conscious of budget constraints. It's something we talk about every day here," she said, adding that officials decided this conference would be worth the expense. "Money spent on professional development directly impacts student success."
        Board President Martin Esquivel, who did not attend the conference, acknowledged Thursday that the travel might raise some eyebrows in the current budget climate.
        "I can understand how it may appear in troubled times, but I also trust my colleagues to assess the value it brings to the district in terms of attending the conference," he said.
        Esquivel also said that board travel and the overall board budget has been cut back over the past few years, and that serving on the board is a substantial time commitment that takes members away from their families.
        Board members who attended the conference are David Robbins, David Peercy, Dolores Griego and Lorenzo Garcia. They will give presentations to the full board about what they learned and gained from the conference.
        Garcia is a presenter at the conference, as are seven other people from APS who are attending. Those presenting are Paula Pompa and Melissa Stotts, both in the special education department; Chief Operating Officer Brad Winter; Executive Director of Technology Tom Ryan; Capital Master Plan Director Kizito Wijenje; Executive Director of Instruction and Accountability Rose-Ann McKernan; and Christopher Brunder, a manager in Research, Deployment and Accountability.
        Also attending, but not presenting, are Superintendent Winston Brooks, Executive Director of Board Services Brenda Yager and policy analyst Carrie Menapace.
        Brooks is one of nine superintendents from around the country nominated for the Richard R. Green Award, which is given annually for excellence in urban educational leadership and will be announced at the conference. As a member of the Council of Great City Schools executive council, Brooks had some of his expenses paid by the council. APS still paid $920.34 for his hotel and flight costs.
        Costs for everyone else ranged from $1,310.24 for Peercy to $2,049.70 for Griego.
        District spending is under increased scrutiny this year, after the district trimmed $38 million from its budget in the spring because of decreased funding from the state and budget miscalculations from past years. Those cuts included furloughs for nonschool staff and cuts to travel and central administration budgets, but they also included cuts to school site budgets and the elimination of hundreds of positions through attrition. More budget cuts are forecast for later in the year due to sluggish state revenues, and, next year, lawmakers will face the task of funding public education without federal stimulus dollars.
        Armenta said the conference will give the board and staff an opportunity to talk to school administrators from around the country about the problems they face and the solutions they are discovering.
        "There are some universal problems we're all facing, like the budget, the achievement gap and teacher evaluations," she said. "So to be able to learn different strategies and talk to people one-on-one about how they're addressing it is really very important."
        She also pointed to awards and pilot programs APS has received through the Council of Great City Schools in recent years.
        "Our affiliation is helping APS get national recognition and is putting us before some of the nation's most powerful policymakers and voices in the field of public education today," she said.

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