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Public weighs in on school board's trip to Europe

The Federal Way School Board got an earful during its Oct. 15 meeting, as numerous members of the community mostly expressed their disapproval of the board's recent trip to Europe as part of the district's Global Learning Initiative.

The 19-day trip to Europe last month — attended by Superintendent Rob Neu and board members Ed Barney, Claire Wilson and Angela Griffin — came with a $60,000 price tag.

Another trip in April cost about $33,000 for Neu and then-board president Tony Moore to spend a month in China.

Both trips left many citizens wondering why that money wasn't being spent closer to home.

"I feel at the current time, when teacher aide hours have been cut and specialists, such as nurses and counselors, are at half-time at may of our schools, and kindergarten teacher aides have been entirely eliminated…spending $80,000 plus traveling by the school board is totally unacceptable," said Michael Kun. "It is my opinion that the board members who traveled should reimburse the school system for that expense of travel. Or resign."

Kun requested that the district never ask him to pay for anything again.

"Spending public money on these trips is unacceptable. The superintendent made a comment tonight that there is plenty of money. All we have to do is reallocate that money. I'm very glad to hear that," he said, "because as a taxpayer, don't ask me ever again to pay for anything for the schools."

Paul Levy said that even with the board's justifications for the trip, he couldn't help but feel they took a vacation at the taxpayers' expense.

"Ostensibly, this program is intended to prepare our students for participation in international opportunities. But I'm left with the nagging feeling that the only ones to benefit from these junkets are the superintendent and board members who got to see the world on the taxpayers' dime," Levy said. "The educational systems in Finland, China, Australia and Scotland should be well known to anyone who is capable of reading."

Levy said the public can see the issues with Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS), and that solutions certainly don't include international trips.

"We stakeholders are not stupid. We recognize the problems, and we know the solutions do not involve international junkets," he said.

Levy concluded by also insisting that the board should resign because of the trips.

FWPS nutrition services employee Neal Goldingay pointed out that instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on an international trip, there are plenty of things that money could be spent on in the district.

"I have to admit, I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. It was a lot of money being spent. A lot," he said. "And quite frankly, when I listened to you tonight, you all sounded like you were rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You seem somewhat desperate to get your point across."

Goldingay went on to say he's consistently pointed out a persistent problem with Thomas Jefferson High School's gutter system the past few years, and wondered why that issue wasn't being resolved while the board and superintendent traveled around the world.

"I've been trying to get the gutters, just the gutters, repaired or replaced at TJ. One of the things you missed when you were in Europe is we picked up six and a half inches of rain for September. The flooding at TJ was biblical. It needs to be fixed," he said. "I'm looking around at the mess at TJ and I'm hearing the reports about you in Europe. It's a tough thing to wrap my mind around."

There were a few sympathetic community members at the Oct. 15 meeting, among them Bill Nyland.

"I'm very excited about this international stuff," he said. "I believe it was a great use of money to get you guys to have the 'aha!' moment that we need to think about international (opportunities)."

Len Englund was also in support of the trips and the direction the district is taking with the Global Learning Initiative.

"I think you guys are doing a good job on this. I applaud your leadership. This is an area where we really need to be a global leader in education," Englund said. "I think it's very brave of you to do this, to make these steps."

The Global Learning Initiative was created to help support the district's "Ends 1 policy," which aims at turning students into competent and competitive global citizens.

The trips, according to district leadership, were mostly aimed at establishing relationships with various educational systems throughout the world to begin exchange programs of students and teachers, and other similar practices. District leadership believes the program could be fully self-funding once the student and teacher exchanges begin.

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