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School board will discuss Europe trip at rescheduled meeting

Europe, as highlighted on a global map. - Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
Europe, as highlighted on a global map.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

The Federal Way School Board has rescheduled its public meetings in October because of the board's controversial trip to Europe.

The next board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Educational Service Center (ESC), 33330 8th Ave. S. The board, which usually meets across the street at City Hall, will also meet at 6 p.m. Oct. 29 at the ESC.

On Oct. 15, Superintendent Rob Neu and three board members — Ed Barney, Claire Wilson and Angela Griffin — will discuss their recent trip to Europe, which was part of the district's Global Learning Initiative.

Starting with an initial flight to Amsterdam, the school district officials traveled to nearly 20 schools in Finland, Scotland and England. The 19-day trip cost taxpayers about $60,000, according to the district.

Several community members have criticized the trip as a junket, with some saying the money should have funded more urgent matters such as classroom expenses and staffing.

Neu has vigorously defended the Europe trip, along with previous overseas trips in 2013, as necessary for gaining insight from foreign schools and students. He said the trips could lead to sponsorships and revenue sources that fund the initiative.

"I know this appears to be a lot of money," Neu told The Mirror. "But it really is a small investment in moving our district forward to prepare our students to be successful in an ever-increasing competitive and global economy."

During these travels, Neu has observed how Asian countries are trying to move away from the negative impact of standardized testing, and how European countries eschew standardized tests in favor of a holistic approach to educating children.

"Finland looked like the schools that I grew up in," said Neu, noting how students study art, home economics and more in what he called a broad and holistic curriculum. "The American system has been designed from the beginning to select and sort and develop winners and losers. … We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us."

Global Learning Initiative and other trips

Neu recently wrote in an essay that the Global Learning Initiative "will ensure our students are prepared for a more competitive, diverse and interconnected world than the one we grew up in."

According to the district, goals for the Global Learning Initiative include:

• Learning from international educators.

• Developing international partnerships through sister schools and exchange programs with Federal Way students and staff.

• Hosting more international students in Federal Way.

• Expanding foreign language studies in elementary schools to include Chinese, Korean and other languages. Sunnycrest Elementary already has a dual-language program in which students study in Spanish for half the day, then in English for the other half.

To prepare for the initiative, Neu and school board members have embarked on "study missions" to learn from other educators and build relationships abroad.

From April 1 through May 1, Neu and school board president Tony Moore traveled to China at a cost of $33,350. As a result, a delegation from Beijing's Northeast Yucai Experimental School toured two Federal Way schools in August. Neu and Moore had visited the Beijing school during their trip.

Neu also traveled to Indonesia from June 20 to July 3. The total cost was $4,082.97. Neu paid approximately $1,400 for hotel costs during that trip, according to the district.

In addition, Neu took a short trip to South Korea from July 6 to July 12. The majority of the costs were paid by the government of South Korea, although the school district contributed $679.12.

All costs for these trips came from the district's general fund. No more overseas trips are planned for this school year, according to the district.

The school district's overall budget is about $213.3 million. The combined cost of these trips (funded in two different budget cycles) reflect about 0.04 percent of the total budget.

FYI: Tony Moore

School board president Tony Moore was scheduled to attend the recent trip to Europe. However, King County deputies arrested Moore on Sept. 17 at SeaTac Airport as he was about to board the plane.

Moore, a small business owner, faces felony theft charges related to an alleged stolen tire scheme in Oregon. Moore said he is innocent and will remain on the school board. Moore will go to trial in Oregon. His next court appearance is Nov. 25, according to his attorney.

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