District of Columbia school board member Frank Shaffer-Corona is using school board travel money to attend the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana, Cuba, this week despite strong protests from board president Conrad Smith.
Just before Shaffer-Corona left for Cuba last Thursday, Smith tried to block approval of his travel vouchers, totaling $756.
A majority of the board overruled Smith at an informal caucus, and the board's general counsel, David Splitt, said the board president by himself had no power to bar payment for the trip.
Smith said yesterday that the festival, whose main sponsor, the World Federation of Democratic Youth, has its headquarters in Hungary, is "a propaganda event against the United States.
"I don't see it as an event that provides a valid educational experience for board members." Smith said. "It's not even styled as an education conference, which is what the travel money is supposed to be used for."
Shaffer-Corona, who is due back from the Havana conference on Saturday, could not be reached by telephone yesterday for comment.
In a memo last Tuesday, Shaffer-Corona denounced Smith's efforts to block the travel money as an "arbitrary decision." He also gave copies of several letters describing the event to school board executive secretary Dwight Cropp. including a letter from the U.S. preparatory committee for the festival that said:
"The festival will have commissions which will address various important and crucial issues which are concerns of youth and students from around the world.These will range from the question of disarmament to the struggle for a New International Economic Order . . ."
Another letter from the U.S. festival committee said Shaffer-Corona was invited to participate "as a national figure . . . (with) sensitivity (and) appreciation of the role youth can and wish to play within our country."
According to an Associated Press report, the festival opened last Friday with about 20,000 participants from 145 countries "whose political views generally range from left to far left." The AP report said the conference is built around the theme of "anti-imperalist solidarity" and has included rallies "that feature ringing condemnations of imperialism, colonialism, Zionism, and racism."
The last world youth festival was held five years ago in East Berlin.
Under guidelines adopted by the D.C. School Board last year, most of the board's annual travel budget is divided equally among its 11 members to use "as they prefer within D.C. and U.S. government travel regulations." The guidelines were drawn up after a controversy over wide differences in school board members' spending for travel. The allotment for each member this year is $1,350.
The guidelines say trip requests must be "reviewed" by the executive secretary, "under the general supervision of the president of the board." Cropp said the main point he tries to insure is that all trips comply with D.C. government rules requiring that travel deal with "subject matter within the general scope of the work of the agency, which is education."
Shaffer-Corona originally asked for travel money in advance, but because approval was delayed he did not receive any money before he left for Havana. Yesterday D.C. budget director Comer Coppie said that because the school board had authorized the trip, Shaffer-Corona would be reimbursed when he returns.