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Critics question EUSD retreat

ENCINITAS — Encinitas Union School District officials took a three-day retreat to a high-end Palm Springs resort, prompting some critics to question the expenditure given statewide budget pressures.

About 35 of the district’s management team and board members attended what Superintendent Timothy Baird called a “powerful training trip” at the La Quinta Resort near Palm Springs, which is affiliated with the Waldorf-Astoria luxury hotel chain. The district spent just over $8,000 on the trip, which came out of Baird’s $10,000 discretionary fund of taxpayer dollars.

Several residents, including a teacher who wished to remain anonymous, contacted The Coast News about the trip, calling it a waste of taxpayer dollars that disrupted preparations for the start of the school year by putting most of the administration out of contact with teachers back home.

Baird, reached this week, defended the trip as providing vital team building for an administration with several new members. He said the cost to the district broke down to about $240 per attendee.

“If we had taken the team to Las Vegas for a week, I’d get that,” Baird said. “We went to the desert in August, and we fed them eggs and made them work all day. But at the end of the day, we did really good work as a management team.”

The trip included several hours a day of team building and management exercises as well as happy hours and other social activities.

The district the past five years had held the retreat locally in district classrooms for thousands less, but Baird said the trade off is the loss of the “team building after hours.” He also said taking district members out of town without their families helps them to focus on the training.

“Did we have fun, did we go out to dinner? Yeah we did,” Baird said. “But the after hours stuff is as important as what happens during the day. It was pretty powerful team time.

“Frankly, I stand by our team’s results.”

At least one board member said they disagreed with the team taking the trip. Maureen “Mo” Muir, whose husband Mark serves on the Encinitas City Council, said all general fund dollars should be funneled to students, not out-of-area retreats.

“It doesn’t matter how much it is, every penny should be going to the classroom,” Muir said. “They (students and parents) look to us, leadership starts at the top. I don’t think going to Palm Springs is conducive for a retreat when you can do it locally and show parents that we are being responsible stewards with their tax dollars.”