DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.,None — Channel 2 Action News has learned that nearly 200 DeKalb County school employees will be boarding flights to Los Angeles this week to attend an education conference that will cost taxpayers nearly $400,000. The money isn't coming from local tax dollars but from federal dollars that came to the county as part of the Obama administration's 2009 stimulus package.
Stimulus money from Washington is often discussed in terms of "shovel ready" construction projects that are supposed to create jobs for unemployed Americans. But the DeKalb County School System has decided to use stimulus money to attend a four-day conference sponsored by America's Choice, which a schools spokesman calls "a great thing."
The organization's Web site describes it as a "solution provider" ... that offers "comprehensive, proven solutions to the complex problems educators face in an era of accountability." The Web site also says America's Choice has "an unparalleled history as a national thought leader."
School spokesman Dale Davis told Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher that 184 principals, instructional coaches, district staff and teachers are scheduled to attend the conference in Hollywood. We found that the primary conference hotel is the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa.
Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa IM Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa
Davis said the school system will spend $91,500 for conference registrations and another $291,400 for hotels, flights, meals and incidentals. That's a total of $382,900 in federal tax money. In an email, Davis wrote, "I am happy that you are expressing interesting in this training opportunity for our employees. We are focused on student improvement. America's Choice is in partnership with the district to help improve the academic success in 40 of our lowest performing schools."
DeKalb's Board of Education recently touched off angry public protests by teachers when it awarded a new contract with a $15,000 raise to Superintendent Dr. Crawford Lewis. The board has defended the raise, even though it came at a time when the system is facing severe budget problems. Lewis is not attending the America's Choice conference.
Channel 2 Action News is hoping to interview someone from the school system about the $382,000 it is spending on the conference in Hollywood. Please refresh this developing story for updates.