Five D.C. school board members, the board's executive secretary and the nonvoting student member flew off yesterday to the Virgin Islands for a National School Boards Association conference.

Attending the four-day conference are school board members Frank Smith Jr., who will leave the board to assume the Ward 1 City Council seat in January, R. Calvin Lockridge, Nathaniel Bush, R. David Hall and Barbara Lett-Simmons, along with N. Carl Cannon, the board's executive secretary, and Tanya Turner, the board's nonvoting student member.

August Steinhilber, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, said the conference is designed to give members, who represent school boards from 11 northeast states, the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands, a chance to discuss educational issues and positions on federal legislation.

The D.C. school board budgets $1,500 annually per member for travel expenses to conferences, and those funds will pay for the school officials' travel, per diem and hotel costs, estimated to total $900 per person, according to school board officials.

School board President David Eaton said he believes it is useful for board members to attend conferences where they can exchange ideas with members of other school boards and "learn who to contact to get things done."

"The Virgin Islands are active in the region. If the people on the mainland are aware of their concerns they are in a position to support them in terms of funding," said board member John Warren. He added that he did not go along because of personal commitments. "It gives us a chance to interact and visit and look at the school system there.

"Folks have a tendency to think 'vacation' when they hear about these trips," he added. "That's a disservice to the people of the Virgin Islands. Mention the islands and all they see are folks lying on the sand."