The rooms are booked, the dates set, the tab paid. All that's left is for 150 D.C. school employees to arrive at the resort hotel they have reserved this month in Fredericksburg, Va., for a meeting on special education.

It will last two days, cost $20,000, and be held in the Sheraton Resort Hotel, where the amenities include swimming pools, tennis courts and a golf course. The meeting is not part of any conference; officials say there is simply a greater chance of getting serious work done outside the District.

But several D.C. school board members are now criticizing the trip as a foolish expense at a time when schools are suffering from deep budget cuts. The trip was organized last fall with Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins's approval.

"People apparently have not got the message that money is short," said board member R. David Hall (Ward 2). "I think this is ridiculous."

In an interview yesterday, Jenkins defended the Fredericksburg retreat, saying the officials will not have time to enjoy the resort because they will be in all-day meetings to improve the city's special education programs.

"This is not a meeting for play," Jenkins said. "It's a meeting to sit down for some good quality time and resolve some of the key issues facing special education. I don't think we have to meet in the city all the time." Jenkins said the school system already has paid for its two days at the Sheraton.

Faced with growing cash shortages, the school board last month indefinitely banned travel unless Jenkins approves. That action was in part prompted by disclosures in March that five school officials spent $3,000 for a weekend at a resort hotel in Miami, just for a quiet spot to work.

Jenkins angrily disputed any comparison between that excursion and the June 20-21 trip to Fredericksburg, which is about 50 miles south of Washington.

"I hope to God you don't play it like that trip to Miami," Jenkins said. "This is totally different. It's justified and very needed. To question it -- that's a bunch of crap."

He said the meeting's $20,000 price tag "is not exorbitant at all" because it will allow time for the school system to revamp how it educates its 5,000 special education students. In recent weeks, a coalition of parents with children in D.C. special education classes have complained about equipment and personnel shortages that the system said it did not have the money to fix.

School board member Karen Shook (At Large), whose committee monitors special education services, said she had not heard of the trip until notified yesterday by The Washington Post.

"I'm very concerned about this," she said. "It shouldn't be taking place. The special ed staff certainly could use a retreat, but we have plenty {of} facilities in the city for that."

The D.C. Council recently slashed $7 million from the school system's current budget, which forced board members to curtail travel, trim summer school funds and freeze certain school system jobs from being filled.

"This trip certainly sends the wrong message," Hall said. "This should be a time of frugality. We're in the hole $7 million."

"This is a total disregard of board policy," said board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8). "There continues to be a segment of the school system that regardless of what crisis we're in, they do whatever they want."