The Schenectady City School District’s 45 top administrators recently went on a three-day retreat at the Dunham’s Bay Lake George Resort at a cost of at least $4,500 to taxpayers.
Superintendent Eric Ely said the Schenectady Administrators’ Association contract mandates a professional development conference in June. The conference is paid for primarily out of SAA dues. However, this year the district picked up one day of the rooms’ cost because the school year ended relatively late, on June 25, and the conference was held on June 29, 30 and July 1.
“We had to go into July, which is a new [year]. Their contact obligates them to go three days in June,” he said.
The conference is for the superintendent and assistant superintendents, building principals and assistant principals and district coordinators. In addition, the district paid for guest speaker Thomas Guskey of the University of Kentucky, who talked about using student assessments to drive instruction. Ely did not have Guskey’s fee readily available.
Steve Boynton, assistant athletic director and president of the Schenectady Administrators’ Association, said the union contract requires the administrators to have 30 hours of professional development. This event takes care of 15 hours. It is not part of any professional certification.
Boynton said the conference is a good chance to get all the administrators on the same page as far as district goals and to interact with their colleagues. “We try to do it for camaraderie. There’s 45 administrators and we don’t get to meet each other and talk to each other,” he said.
Administrators are required to attend the conference portion of the retreat from roughly 8:30 or 9 a.m. until 3 or 3:30 p.m. The guest speaker for the first day was gang prevention specialist Ron “Cook” Barrett. The second and third days of the conference featured Guskey, who Boynton said was the most prominent speaker the district has had. He has written 13 books and more than 100 journal articles on education. He is an emeritus professor at the University of Kentucky and had served at one time as director of the Office of Educational Research and Development, according to the university’s Web site.
Then, Boynton said, people are free to do what they want. They can go home or do some boating or other recreational activities at Dunham’s Bay resort on Route 9L and stay overnight.
“There’s no pressure to stay,” Boynton said.
Also, the union pays for two barbecues out of its dues.
He said about 25 to 30 people stay and five or 10 return. Boynton said three or four administrators stay in a room, depending on the size. Boynton did not have an exact figure of how much the union paid, but said it was in the ballpark of $6,000.
When asked why the conference could not be held closer to Schenectady, Boynton said there is some advantage in distance.
“If you’re close by work, you’ll get called in. … So we try to get away so people can focus on what they’re doing and not get pulled into their day-to-day job,” he said.
Boynton said Schenectady has gone with other school districts in the past, including Colonie, and would like to participate in other collaborations.
Boynton said the school district waits until the end of the school year because it would be too difficult to get away otherwise.
Normally, the retreat takes place on the last three days of June but has spilled into July the past two years. The district gives administrators an extra vacation day as compensation, Boynton said.
The retreat has been going on for at least 20 years, according to district spokeswoman Karen Corona. Boynton said this was the second year at Dunham’s Bay. Other venues have been Canoe Island and Tiki Resort.
Ashley Pastore, front desk supervisor for Dunham’s Bay, said room rates range from $130 to $315 per night, depending on size and type. Meal entrees range between $16 and $17.95.
She said the resort can offer a discount on bookings of eight or more rooms. “It’s usually 10 percent, but that has to be cleared with the manager,” she said.
The Daily Gazette has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for a more specific breakdown of the costs and format of the event. That request is still being processed.
Brian Butry, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, said the retreats are a good way to get the administrative team on the same page. He wouldn’t consider traveling away from the district uncommon.
“Sometimes it’s nice to get out of the distinct — to clear your head, get away from any kind of conflict or animosity. Everybody is in a neutral spot. … People might be more apt to discuss new ideas that they wouldn’t in the workplace,” he said.
Scotia-Glenville School District spokesman Robert Hanlon said 19 district administrators and directors recently went to a conference at Riverside Manor that lasted about six hours a day. The cost was $570 and included breakfast, lunch and a meeting room there.
Ahead of time, administrators had read the book “Whole New Mind” that discusses the new kind of skills that children need. At the conference, they broke into small groups for discussion.
The district did not have an administrators’ retreat last year, Hanlon said. The previous year administrators spent most of a day at Coburn Village in Clifton Park. Superintendent Susan Swartz paid for the cost out of her own pocket.
“They’ve never done overnights. They’ve generally done daylong things,” he said.