DISD questioned over $57,000 field trip using federal funds

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on February 9, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 10 at 11:20 AM

DALLAS - An estimated 5,000 DISD fifth-grade boys excitedly exited schools buses, headed out for a field trip. And for fifth-grade boys, it's a field trip of the best kind. They are being treated to the newly released war movie, "Red Tails."

It’s a film about the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American pilots whose acts of bravery during World War II won them medals of valor. District officials say World War II is part of the fifth grade curriculum.

The district reported late Thursday $32,000 was spent for the movie tickets and $25,000 for the buses.

"What we did is, we provided each school with lesson plans both before and after the movie, so we could take best advantage of the opportunity for these students," said Jon Dahlander, DISD spokesperson.

By students, he means boys. The fifth-grade girls were not invited. They stayed in school and watched a rented movie about a spelling bee.

But DISD watchdog Allen Gwinn feels in the face of looming budget cuts, and talk of closing schools, this is not the best use of taxpayer money.

"I would like to think that our kids could be able to read, instead of absorbing material by going to an expensive outing at the movies," Gwinn said.

But District officials say the outing was paid for with federal Title I money.

"This was approved by the TEA monitor, Steve Peterson, Contracted Grants Manager, in advance," Dahlander said.

According to state education officials in Austin, the use of the money to take children to a movie was not approved.

"TEA went through the Dallas ISD Title I grant application for the 2011 through 2012 school year, and found no request for approval of any field trips," DeEtta Culbertson said. "This includes any field trip to view a movie. If this occurred and is later disallowed by T.E.A., DISD would have to re-pay the expenditures with money other than Title I funds."

News 8 was the first to report this week of a warning letter delivered to DISD by TEA Commissioner Robert Scott last month.

DISD had been misusing federal money. Said Scott, continued misuse "could jeopardize DISD's ability to receive $79,235,287 in Title 1 federal funds."

The only trustee we could reach for comment on today's developments was Mike Morath.

"It strikes me that this is a less than ideal use of public funds," he said. "Is it educationally beneficial to go see a movie? Probably not."

The parents did sign releases, but News 8 has learned that not all fifth-grade boys were allowed to attend.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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