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ONLY ON 3: Columbus Co. Schools spend thousands on conference at posh resort

READ MORE: ONLY ON 3: Columbus Co. Schools spend thousands on conference at posh resort

COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WWAY) -- Smack in the middle of education cuts, and budget belt-tightening, some area educators have just returned from a conference at one of the country's ritziest resorts. Nineteen administrators, including principals and instructional directors, from Columbus County Schools attended the Summer Leadership Conference at the Grove Park Inn last week. The Asheville resort has played host to the president and a number of celebrities.

In total, the conference and the rooms cost the school district at least $6,000. Columbus County Schools Superintendent Dan Strickland says the whole trip was paid for by a federal grant that could only be used for professional development.

"We debated, honestly, we did, about possibly cancelling the trip. We did," Strickland said. "My leadership team, we talked to principals about it, and we said, 'You know, we're losing positions,' but again, even if we lose positions, which is dreadful and terrifying to our county, we have to make sure that what's left, what we have left is the best possible education for our kids."

We know at least two other area superintendents from different districts attended the conference. One opted out of staying at the Grove Park Inn, saying while the rate was only slightly more expensive than other area hotels, perception matters, especially in a struggling economy.

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retreat: waste or work?

Half of the administrators that show up for this conference attend only one or two events that are presented by their colleagues. The rest of the time they are at the Biltmore with their family, the spa getting a massage, or at Cherokee gambling. On Tuesday afternoon they are playing golf. They do not show up for the staff development in order to get ready for the golf match. At night they have vendors pay for their supper and all the alcohol they can drink. One can only imagine these vendors get something out of the deal. Maybe it is you scratch my back and we will scratch yours.

Professional Conferences

Professional Conferences such as these are routinely held at venue's such as the Grove Park, Pinehurst Resort, etc. here in NC. Rates are negotiated by the conference sponsors at a much more affordable rate, sometimes cheaper than the average HI Express. These places have the meeting rooms needed to support a large event and the location is very appealing to conference attendees. You have to remember, if you are educated...typically your profession requires you to have some sort of continuing education credits per year. And you people don't think a Convention Center at the beach wouldn't attract the same?


This is a professional development event that gives credit for attending but has no sign in sheet to make sure that anyone attends the staff development. We talk about accountability but how do we as Columbus County residents ensure that those who attend this event actually attend the professional development activities. We don't have money to keep teachers in the classroom but we can spend money on a nice "vacation" for administrators. Does any of the people keep a record of who attends these activities? The article states that several other counties attended but how many counties decided to use their limited funds on more productive staff development for administrators?

Here's the registration form

Here's the registration form for the actual event...

The "numbers" are right on the document including the conference cost along with separately stated lodging and golf fees... the keynote speakers and their credentials are also listed.

Maybe this is some kind of new math, but $315 per participant isn't the result I reached when I ran the costs... It is, giving the benefit of the doubt, plausible that the attendees contributed to the costs of their own lodging.

They probably got paid for

They probably got paid for mileage at $.50 per mile for round trip. You can go to the website and look under frequently used forms and see the mileage rate. The breakfast and lunch was reimbursed probably since they were there. The supper was covered by vendors who provided meals for all county members who were there as well as any spouses and children. I also overheard some Principals talking about there was plenty of alcohol available for those who chose to drink. At one supper it was only wine and beer but at another, one could order a mixed drink. If you look at the schedule that someone posted all the professional development was half day. It began on Monday but the County paid for Sunday night! Is there any records of who attended what meetings? Were there any ways of accountability of what our money was spent on. I saw where only half of the people who went a couple of years ago across the state were there this year but it looks like Columbus County sent as many or more. Dan Strickland said that a couple of systems that were local chose to send the superintendent but did not mention that no other administrators went. Whiteville City chose not to send anyone. Cut 25 positions and give the administrators a vacation with golf, gambling, and shopping. Wish I had a job like that!


My understanding is that the only cost to the administrators is if their spouse attended they would pay the additional cost of a private room compared to a room they would share with another administrator. Supper was free as vendors who do business with the school system provide the meal. I would assume and maybe incorrectly that the meal includes the families of the administrators. What do the vendors get for providing this expensive meal in a poor economy?

I've been there

and if they could take 19 bodies out there and cover all costs for $6,000, that's a steal.

Especially if they used Obama Dollars. The press is running out of ink; and those dollars are going to run out at some point.

What they did not talk about was the focus of the meeting. What was the agenda? Did they accomplish what they intended? Were the results worth the cost?

This sounds like a deal.

This sounds like a deal. Nineteen administrators for $6000.00 ($315.00 per administrator)!


What they heck, they can fire a teacher and do this a couple of times.. Paid vacations are part of the job, and they need the time off.

Columbus County Schools

Keep checking - Dan Strickland is one of the highest paid superintendants in the state (in excess of $160,000 per year) while the teachers have one of the lowest rates in the states. When the last superintendant retired, he was rehired in a newly created position AS A PART-TIME EMPLOYEE at a cost in excess of $80,000 plus a secretary (total cost in excess of $100,000). When Dan retires, I am sure the BOARD will create a position for him. When used for the administration, money means nothing to Dan and the BOARD!

Quit wasting our money

We cut teacher positions but now I hear that all three high schools have a partnership with schools in either Denmark or China. How much does it cost to send 20 students and faculty over there? Couldn't that money be better used to keep teachers so classes can remain small. Dan is always traveling somewhere when with technology today he could do a lot more over the internet. Who does one see to get a copy of what our tax dollars are spent for. Now they put out handouts in the schools to give to students to take home about the 1/4 cents sales tax. How much more can the residents of Columbus County afford to pay for two school systems? I would love to see WWAY get a copy of how much was spent on the Grove Park Inn Retreat. Love for them to find out what it cost the county schools for those vendors to feed all those people and provide the booze. Where is our accountability from the Board? Does anyone on the Board of Education know what goes on at these retreats? Two years ago it was held at Ft. Caswell Baptist Retreat. Why can't they do professional development at one of the schools in the summer and avoid paying for rooms? Quit wasting our money and asking for more. I hope the people of Columbus County are not ignorant enough to vote for a tax increase so they can have more to waste. Use what you have appropriately before asking for more.