Correction to This Article
This article on professional travel by Washington area school leaders misstated the timing of Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III's 2008 visit to Beijing. The trip was last summer, not last spring.

D.C. Area Schools Chiefs' Perk That Refreshes: Travel

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009

School superintendents in the Washington region work punishing hours as a rule, with duties that blur day and evening, week and weekend. Some ease the strain by getting away from the office -- far away, and often.

Records and interviews show that some school chiefs took nine, 10, even 12 weeks of paid leave in the last fiscal year for vacation, personal matters and professional travel to such destinations as Florida, Europe and Asia. That's on top of holidays and institutional days off, which are comparatively plentiful in public education.

Typically in the region, contracts allow five or six weeks of annual vacation as well as any reasonable amount of travel for professional growth.

Freedom to roam is a largely unnoticed perk enjoyed by some of the region's highest-paid local public officials, the records and interviews show.

Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III spent 49 weekdays from July 2007 through June 2008 traveling the nation and the world in pursuit of reinvigoration and professional growth. He visited Hartford, Conn., and Minneapolis in summer; Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Rome and Madrid in fall; Tampa in winter; and Los Angeles again and Beijing in spring.

In Madrid, Hatrick spoke about best practices in U.S. education at a conference of international school officials. In Beijing, he took a tour tailored to school systems, like Loudoun's, with nascent Chinese language programs.

"We're like everybody else: We need to be refreshed," said Hatrick, who is in his 18th year as superintendent, the longest tenure in the region. "We need to see a world beyond the parochial world in which we live."

Hatrick also took 11 days of vacation, for a total of 60 days of leave in 2007-08. He took more paid leave than any of the other 10 superintendents who responded in full to a Washington Post survey. Fairfax County Superintendent Jack D. Dale ranked second, with 51 days of leave. Prince William County Superintendent Steven L. Walts ranked third, with 46.

Dale spent two weeks in summer 2007 meeting with education leaders in Taiwan and in the South Korean city of Busan, whose Korea Science Academy has a partnership with Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Walts went to destinations including Phoenix; Rochester, N.Y.; Dallas; Orlando; and Tampa.

The 11 local superintendents surveyed took an average of 34 days of paid leave in the fiscal year that ended June 30, putting Montgomery County's Jerry D. Weast (33 days), Arlington County's Robert G. Smith (34) and Anne Arundel County's Kevin M. Maxwell (34) in the middle of the pack.

On average, the 11 leaders also took 13 holidays. Two others, former Prince George's County superintendent John E. Deasy and D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, provided records that were incomplete but which suggested that their business travel and other time away from the office followed the regional pattern.

School leaders occasionally draw criticism for travel. They and their critics diverge on this question: To effectively run a large school system, with dozens of schools and thousands of employees, how often is it necessary to be in the office?

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