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Seminar travel plans faulted

Heartthrob country singer Sammy Kirshaw will head the list of performers at Opryland USA in Nashville, Tenn., the week of June 22.

And if a school district proposal is approved, 77 Hernando teachers, administrators and business leaders will be there for a four-day training conference with taxpayers footing the $60,000-plus bill.

At the last minute, Superintendent John Sanders pulled from Tuesday's School Board agenda a proposal to spend $30,815 for conference registration for the 77 people.

Air fare, hotel and meals for the participants would have been paid for later, he said.

Sanders said he plans to scale back the proposal before he returns it to the board.

Despite the proposal being removed from the agenda, four of five School Board members were miffed at the district staff for even suggesting so much money be spent on a trip _ especially a week after teachers were told no money was available for raises above the 1.86 percent they received.

"Anybody with half a brain wouldn't have put this on the board," said board member Stephen Galaydick. "This is real dynamite."

Sanders said he pulled the request to send the people because he didn't intend to have that many at the conference.

"I was told about this trip a long time ago, and I didn't intend for it to get as big as it did," Sanders said. "Sometimes things get on the board's agenda that I don't know about."

But Sanders' signature, which appears to have been made with a rubber stamp, is on the cover sheet of the proposal.

"The important thing here is that we pulled it off and will be scaling it back," Sanders said. Sanders said he doesn't know how many people he will recommend attend the conference. The application deadline is in mid-May.

School Board member Jim Malcolm said he "hit the ceiling" when he saw the $30,815 proposal in his mailbox Monday morning.

"When I saw that I called and asked, "What is this?' " he said. "When you consider the climate we are operating in, it's really crazy. If we are saying we are up against it financially, you don't go and send people to Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. It just doesn't make sense."

If the trip is approved, it will be paid for with a federal grant earmarked for training. The money could not be used for such things as teachers' salaries or construction.

Jerry Milby, the only board member on the list of proposed attendees, said it is unfair to sacrifice a valuable conference for political reasons.

"I don't know what the objections are about," he said. "Staff development is critical. This conference will be attended by people from systems in the United States and internationally who have found ways to do innovative things well. That can be very valuable to our students."

Included on the list of people to attend the conference are at least seven married couples who work for the district.

The couples include Milby and his wife, Evelyn, a teacher at Spring Hill Elementary School; Assistant Superintendent Don Brown and his wife, Martha, a teacher at Moton Elementary; and Assistant Superintendent Wendy Tellone and her husband, Michael, the principal of Pine Grove Elementary.

Among the business leaders proposed to take the trip at district expense are Sims Machine & Control owner Jesse Sims and Hernando Today general manager/publisher Duane Chichester.

Milby said the business leaders were selected because of their commitment to the district.

"It takes a real cross-section of the community to improve the schools," he said.

The conference, called "The Model Schools Conference," costs $395 per person. Rooms at the Opryland Hotel, the host hotel, cost $150 a night for double occupancy. Plane tickets will cost $165 per person, Sanders said. Thirty-nine rooms and registration and air fare for 77 people would be needed.

Total cost: $60,670. And that does not include meals and other incidental expenses.

Attendees will hear from representatives from districts that have successfully incorporated technology into their classrooms in a series of 15 seminars. The keynote speaker is Dr. Willard Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education Inc., which runs the conference.

Daggett spoke in Pasco County last month.

"Why don't we just take the whole show here?" Malcolm said. "That would probably be a whole lot better deal."

Tim Ott, director of program services for the International Center, said organizers are expecting about 1,800 people to attend from about 200 districts. That's an average of nine per district, although Ott said they have had groups of up to 80 come from a district.

"It's a very valuable experience for people who attend," he said. "This is our fifth annual conference, and we get nothing but positive feedback."

But board member Sandra Nicholson, who turned down an invitation to attend, said she doesn't understand why so many people need to go.

"From my experiences with conferences, you need a couple of people going to cover all the sessions then report back to everyone else about what went on," she said. "We don't need seven or eight groups of spouses. It just looks like family vacation time. If spouses can't share with their spouses what happened there, what does that say for the district and its communication?"