You can watch the report here. After watching it myself, there are several questions, comments, and criticisms I have.
- Eric asserts that the amount spent on travel is "a lot of money" and that at least part of it could have been used to buy textbooks, new technology and hire new staff. IS it a lot of money in context? What are the travel and developmental budgets of similar sized districts? (I asked Eric, he told me it was too difficult to find out.) Is JCPS going to more or fewer conferences than other districts in the state? Is Eric saying professional development and ongoing learning for teachers is less important than textbooks, new technology, and staff? Based on what factors?
- Flack starts his report with several postcard style shots of resorts that he pulled off of the internet (without proper sourcing) and then inserts them on several occasions during the report, even while discussing JCPS' assertion that these were for professional development. Did Flack bother gathering details about these trips beyond some pretty pictures on Facebook? Did he look into whether it is common for educational conferences to be held (like most business conferences I've attended) at larger and nicer hotels in larger cities?
- When Flack discusses the expenses with Cordelia Hardin, JCPS CFO, he says "at a time when you have raised taxes six years in a row, people will see you guys spending money in Vegas, D.C., and Vail, and they'll be mad about it." Who are these "people", Eric? I'm a taxpaying parent of JCPS and I understand the need for professional development and that most organizations don't hold these conferences at a Motel 6 in Oxnard. Is there a reason I should be mad? When are you going to provide me with information that can help me form an educated opinion
- Flack mentions a "WAVE 3 News Troubleshooter review of travel expenses" while showing a document that is basically a check register. How detailed was his investigation into these expenses? Did he compare the expenses reported with the hotels in question to see how much a similar stay with similar occupancy and similar meals, activities, etc. may have cost? Was JCPS overpaying for the travel? Were people going that shouldn't have attended? It's tough for me to understand how I can determine if taxpayers are "getting taken for a ride" if I have no context for the expenses, the people involved, details on the conference, or any sort of information to make that call.
- Why is it necessary time and time again during the report to cut to images of the exterior of the places where these conferences were held while people are discussing professional development, including almost the entire time Flack discusses Seneca teacher Jody Johnson attending two conferences? Is Flack insinuating teachers are really just there to enjoy a vacation?
- Flack makes it sound as though Jody Johnson was simply hopping from Vegas trip to Vegas trip when he says "Johnson likes professional development conferences so much, she took that trip to the Venetian to study differentiated instruction, three months after she had gone to a different professional development conference. This one, also, in Vegas." Did the Troubleshooter ask any questions about why she was able to attend two conferences or the criteria by which teachers are selected to go? Is he saying teachers get to take these conferences when and wherever they want in the frequency they want?
- Why/how did Eric Flack happen to seek the opinion of the Education Action Group, and why is he presenting the group as "an advocacy organization"? Did Flack not know that the EAG is a Michigan based right wing lobbying organization devoted to attacking public education and teachers unions while advocating for vouchers, school choice, and privatization of education. I asked Eric on Twitter about this, and as of this writing, he has yet to respond to why he brought the into the conversation.
Overall, this is truly an abysmal piece of reporting, one that does nothing to answer the central question WAVE / Flack proposed in the intro, " Is the Jefferson County Public School system taking taxpayers for a ride. Or is it investing in local students future?" Since Flack doesn't provide us with enough information to compare JCPS to other districts, or to validate that these expenses were out of line for conferences, or that these conferences didn't provide instructional value for the teachers that attended, it's impossible to say how I should feel as a taxpayer.
Most troubling is Flack's use of photos and information from a political organization posing as an educational advocacy group. If Flack fancies himself an investigative reporter, why would he go to an organization with an ax to grind for comment? Was Flack too lazy to do his homework on EAG, was he played by the organization, or is WAVE using the report to further a political and/or editorial agenda for the station? In the end, Eric Flack's report left me with far too many questions to have been of any value. It feels more like a JCPS smear piece than an actual attempt to investigate the school system.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE EDUCATION ACTION GROUP IS BELOW