Grand Rapids NBC-affiliated television station WOOD-TV reported yesterday that emails and correspondence demonstrated how far Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal planned to go to show her support for Betsy DeVos. (Weatherall Neal's $329,579 current compensation package includes an annual $207,794 salary, nearly $95,000 in combined pension and annuity payments, and 32 vacation days. The Grand Rapids Superintendent compensation package is outranked only by the Kalamazoo public school district, which provides its leader in a total $340,038 in salary and benefits.)
The correspondence (including emails) showed plans for a trip to DeVos’ confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., paid for by DeVos’ nonprofit, American Federation for Children. (The trip never happened because the hearing was postponed and Weatherall Neal couldn't make it to the rescheduled hearing.)
It deal included “talking points” provided by the organization.
The leader of the GRPS teachers union said the emails and correspondence raise questions about whether the superintendent is too closely tied to DeVos.
“It’s just another example of Betsy DeVos using her money to get what she wants because I’m sure it would have been real nice to have a superintendent sitting behind her at the confirmation hearing,” Grand Rapids Education Association President Mary Bouwense said.
|Teresa Weatherall Neal|
The American Federation for Children planned to put Weatherall Neal and John Helmholdt, the district's Executive Director of Communications & Public Affairs, up at the Courtyard Marriott in DC.
It was not clear how much the trip would have cost—except Weatherall Neal's immortal soul.
“We also ask that you be willing to give media interviews supporting her nomination following the hearing,” the federation wrote in an email to Weatherall Neal.
They told her where she and other guests would sit at the confirmation hearing—behind DeVos—and gave them talking points, including that DeVos was a “fearless champion for students.”
And, if they were stumped by a reporter’s question, they were told to say this: “I’m proud and honored to be a guest of Secretary of Education-designate DeVos and confident she’ll be an effective, compassionate and innovative Secretary of Education.”
After the hearing and media interviews, the superintendent and other guests were invited to join Betsy and Dick DeVos for lunch at the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse in Washington.
Helmholdt said the trip would have been legal.
He said the superintendent planned to use vacation time.
“She was honored for the invitation but really sensitive to ensure that no taxpayer dollars were being used for the travel or for her time there,” he said.