Louisville Gheens Academy Under Fire for Spending Practices

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A corporate-style training academy for educators in Jefferson County, Ky., that has been a model for staff-development programs across the country has come under fire for its spending practices.

State and local officials cooperating on a probe of the Gheens Professional Development Academy said this month that the academy's management spent "excessive'' amounts on restaurant meals and flowers and violated other spending guidelines set by the district.

A joint venture of the Gheens Foundation, a local philanthropy, and the county's public schools, which include Louisville, the academy was started in 1984 to coordinate staff development.

The $11 million program imitates reward structures used by the private sector, offering educators perks unknown in most schools.

Although its programs have been praised by many educators, some observers said they feared the recent developments would tarnish the academy's national reputation.

Terry I. Brooks, the head of the Gheens Academy for five years until he moved to the central office last year, resigned this month. Mr. Brooks, who most recently served as the special assistant to Superintendent Stephen Daeschner, did not offer a reason for his departure, said Lauren Roberts, a spokeswoman for the superintendent.

One school official indicated last week that Mr. Brooks and other academy leaders may have become too separated from the district and believed that their spending would not be subject to tight controls.

'Sloppy Management'?

Several school districts nationwide have staff-development academies similar to the one in Jefferson County.

The Mayerson Academy in Cincinnati, for instance, is also modeled after corporate-training structures. (See Education Week, Nov. 4, 1992.)

But that program is almost solely funded by the business community, said Larry Rowedder, the academy's director, an arrangement that may shield it from the kind of scrutiny that Gheens has come under recently.

The Gheens Academy's budget jumped from $400,000 in its first two years, with 90 percent of the funding coming from the foundation, to its current multimillion-dollar status, with the foundation providing less than 10 percent.

About $2 million of the program's funding is drawn from the district's general fund, said Paul Clemens, the district's chief financial officer. Much of the rest comes from state and federal grants.

Phillip Schlecty--who helped design one of the nation's first career-ladder programs in the Charlotte-Mecklenberg, N.C., district and who served as the first director of Gheens--defended the academy's approach to training educators.

"Obviously, I'm committed to the notion that teachers ought to be treated as executives,'' Mr. Schlecty, the president of the Center for Leadership in School Reform in Louisville, said.

But he acknowledged that there could have been some "sloppy management'' by Gheens officials, who reportedly held cash receipts for long periods and failed to document business expenses.

The academy "needed a stronger hand from an administrative standpoint,'' Mr. Clemens said. "It lost its focus a little bit.''

Spending Criticized

The investigation, which was conducted by district officials and the state's Office of Education Accountability, found that the academy spent more on meals and gifts than all other district departments combined. In fiscal year 1993, for instance, the academy spent more than $142,000 on food, out-of-town travel, and presents for school employees and others.

More than $2,300 in flowers a year "were sent in many cases to deliver personal messages that appear to have no connection with the educational function'' of the academy, the report also found.

In addition, investigators concluded that the academy improperly managed about $1.5 million in grants and violated the district's bidding policies.

Diane Price, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said that some of the charges leveled at Gheens officials had been overblown and that gifts or meals for training sessions were "nothing grandiose'' but details that "teachers just really appreciated.''

Vol. 13, Issue 26

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