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$30,000 spent to send Chambersburg educators to conference at Walt Disney World

September 18, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -- The Chambersburg Area School District paid about $30,000 to send 19 administrators and teachers to Walt Disney World for a three-day conference in July, money that came from a state grant, according to figures supplied by the district Wednesday.

The figure included $10,000 to register district personnel for the Model Schools Conference; $9,274.68 for lodging; $2,651.09 in reimbursements for meals; $2,185.55 in reimbursements to teachers who drove themselves to the conference; and airfare for those who flew to Florida, according to a summary of the expenses.

"It's all paid for out of the grant. Project 720," said Sylvia Rockwood, the district's director of information services. The district provided figures Friday for the lodging, but a summary of the rest of trip's expenses was not available then.

Project 720 is a state grant program for secondary school improvement that includes funds that must be spent on professional development, district officials said last week. The conference in Florida was one recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Superintendent Joseph Padasak said.

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The cost of the trip and other credit card expenditures were brought into question at last week's school board meeting by Citizens for Responsible Government President Allen Piper, who previously submitted a request for information under the state's Right to Know law regarding the $9,274 bill from Walt Disney World, as well as other expenses.

Piper said at the meeting he would be making more requests for district financial records and his group was considering taking the matter to the state attorney general if explanations of the expenditures were not forthcoming.

Piper, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, also requested details on vouchers for $3,568.83, $1,289.70 and $1,936.57 paid in May and June. A breakdown of those checks showed transactions by Padasak, Assistant Superintendents Eric Michael and Catherine Dusman, Human Resources Director Billy Hodge Jr., Technology Director Mark Long and other administrators from late March into May.

Many of the expenditures listed on the statements were for hotels, a car rental and other travel expenses, including costs associated with a recruiting trip to Monroeville, Pa., by Hodge and a conference in Philadelphia attended by the district's construction team, Rockwood said.

There were numerous bills for restaurants, mostly in the Chambersburg area. A number of criminal record checks were also charged by Hodge, according to the documents.

"Joe has a tremendous amount of working lunches" with prospective employees, fellow educators, and community and business leaders, Rockwood said.

"All the purchases were made with budgeted funds and followed district guidelines for purchasing," Rockwood said.

Rockwood said using credit cards for routine purchases was simpler than filling out purchasing forms. Because of the questions raised by Piper, however, Padasak said last week that the district in late July decided to curtail the use of credit cards in most instances.

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