COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System will pay nearly $2,000 for a school board member's special conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
Newton County Board of Education member Almond Turner attended the Federal Relations Network Conference in Washington, D.C., in early February to take classes and deliver a letter to Georgia representatives.
The school system will pay $1,915.48 for the trip, according to documents provided by NCSS on Friday through an Open Records Request by the Citizen.
The cost includes a $685 registration fee for the conference on Sunday, Feb. 5, through Tuesday, Feb. 7; $236.60 for a flight on Delta; and $993.88 for a hotel room at the Washington Hilton for four nights at $248.47 per night including tax from Saturday, Feb. 4, through Wednesday, Feb. 8.
"It was more than just delivering a letter," Turner said on Monday after he received criticism for the trip. "This was a training."
He was scheduled to attend an issues forum on Saturday afternoon, a new member orientation on Sunday morning, a rural legislative action group meeting on Sunday morning, a teacher and principal effectiveness legislative meeting at midday Sunday and a congressional awards luncheon on Monday.
Meetings were scheduled from Feb. 5 to 7; they included topics like urban and rural legislation, political insights, state trends, local school board issues and priorities, education funding, No Child Left Behind waivers, bullying and safety, charter schools and parent engagement, among others.
"It is an excellent learning opportunity to learn more about policies and to gather ideas from other systems around the United States," Turner said. "It's more effective than being restricted to Newton County."
Turner also spoke to a group of Congress members and their staffs concerning legislative issues that affect school board districts across the nation.
Issues included No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress and federal standards.
He also hand delivered a letter concerning the issues to Congressmen Austin Scott and Robert Woodall, who represent Newton County in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as Georgia U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss.
"I feel it is very important that we have the opportunity for someone from our school district to play an active role in discussing the needs of Newton County with those at the state and federal levels," Turner said before the trip. "It is indeed an honor to be able to meet with other school districts across the country in an effort to have constructive dialogue and gain knowledge as to how federal legislation and policies impact our district. In addition, we will let the concerns of Newton County be heard in Washington."
He paid for his own food and taxi during the trip, according to Sherri Davis-Viniard, director of Public Relations at NCSS.
Turner said on Monday that the superintendent approved the trip ahead of time, and it was discussed with other board members about offering the trip on a rotating ongoing basis.
He was nominated to attend the conference by Georgia School Board Association Fourth District Director Katrina Young; it was approved by the GSBA District directors.
Twenty-three school board members from Georgia's 13 congressional districts attended the conference.