DISD fifth-grader field trip costs may be reimbursed

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on February 10, 2012 at 8:52 PM

DALLAS - On Friday, Dallas school officials said they are prepared to pay back $57,000 of federal tax dollars, if in fact it was improperly spent.

At issue, Thursday's field trip for fifth-grade boys to see a war movie. DISD may have to pay the $57,000 back for a variety of reasons.

First of all, no girls were invited to attend, and that's a potential violation of federal law.

But even though DISD officials say they had approval from a Texas Education Agency Monitor, DISD has yet to provide us proof of that and TEA officials in Austin say they never authorized the use of federal funds to send children to see a movie.

For DISD to take 5,000 kids on a $57,000 field trip using federal money, generally is not a problem.

TEA Guidelines are spelled out in this manual published last September. Field trips are fine, as long as they are "learning experiences that are otherwise difficult to duplicate in a classroom," according to the guidelines. Some examples would be "laboratory and field investigations." Also "trips to rivers, archaeological sites, libraries, universities,” are permissible.

And where did the 5,000 DISD students go on their field trip? To the movies, to see "Red Tails," a motion picture based on the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.

But TEA and federal guidelines don't allow for costs covering "field trips for entertainment purposes." Guidelines also forbid "field trips that are not part of a teacher's lesson plans."

While DISD did show us lesson plans tailored for the teaching of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the plans were crafted last week and sources say teachers scrambled to incorporate it. Sources also tell News 8 the field trip was conceived just days ago, and ultimately approved by Senior Executive Director Shirley Ison-Newsome, despite some objections it might conflict with federal spending rules.

"At the time, the district's grants management office met with the TEA grants consultant, all indicators were this field trip met all of the criteria to be an allowable expenditure of federal Title I funds," said Jon Dahlander, DISD Spokesperson. "If, however, TEA ultimately determines that it is not reimbursable, the district will handle it at the appropriate time."

Neither Shirley Ison-Newsome, nor Interim Superintendent Alan King, nor DISD Board President Lew Blackburn responded to our requests for an interview. TEA officials say they are concerned about the use of Title I funds just for boys and it raises questions about gender discrimination.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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