LONGVIEW, Wash — What was supposed to be a fun school trip to the east coast, turned into a frustrating experience for the students and their parents.
Six students from the Longview School District traveled to Florida in late April for the national DECA competition, which prepares students for a business career.
Each student was responsible for the $1,000 cost of the trip.
“The cost of the trip ($1K each student) always fell on the students/parents to pay. The school was never covering any of that $1K," Kahne Hooper, a mom of one of the students told KGW. "They only fronted the cost of the airfare/lodging temporarily to book it all as a group and because the fundraising efforts were not completed until after the trip had concluded. The kids still had money coming in that was to go towards their $1K. Whatever wasn’t raised, the parents/kids had to pay the school for."
To pay for the trip, students raised funds by selling flower baskets. Some raised more than the $1,000 goal and that money was turned into the ASB (Associated Student Body) fund.
"She has really been into the DECA program, she wants to rebuild the DECA program at the school she's attending now," Jay Hooper's daughter was one of the students that went.
When the students went to catch their return flight home to PDX, Delta had overbooked their flight. So, the students voluntarily took a gift card offered to them by Delta for the inconvenience.
That gift card is what's at issue.
"The last 3 weeks have been hectic, even while at work, leisure time, you're thinking about it,” Hooper said. “I find myself thinking about it and shaking my head and smiling at the same time because I'm baffled by the same time because it doesn't make sense to me."
About a week after returning home, Longview school officials had learned of the gift cards and said they could be viewed as a public gift and that corrective action needed to be taken.
The school district worked with the Washington State Auditor's office to make sure the gift cards were indeed public money and the state auditor's office agreed. It said because the flights were paid with public money, the gift cards are in turn a public gift.
In an e-mail to KGW, a spokesman for the State Auditor's Office explained their reasoning this way:
"The tickets were purchased using ASB funds and the gift cards were given in consideration for changes made to those tickets. So, the gift cards were a benefit of the use of ASB funds and belong to the ASB fund."
Parents don't see it that way.
"This in no way benefits the school. They weren't involved in the student's trip and inconvenienced,” Hooper said. “They were being paid for their time and inconvenience and not catching the flight they were supposed to as well as going into a different airport because they came into Sea-Tac instead of PDX."
As for the money that was raised, Hooper says he was told that money would go into a general ASB fund for DECA in the student's names to be used in the future and would not be used to pay for the trip.
Hooper said some students won't benefit from that transfer of money.
"If that student is a senior, they'll never get to use that money,” he said. “So, the money they raised for this trip is going nowhere."
Dan Zorn, the superintendent of Longview Public Schools declined an on-camera interview, but said in a statement:
"The district continues to work with the state auditor’s office to ensure that we are handling this situation properly and in accordance with state public finance laws and practices. We are aware that it is causing some inconvenience to our families and will continue to work with them as we arrive at a solution. We do not intend to cause any undo strife, but as a public agency, we must follow the laws and procedures concerning the appropriate use of public funds."
Online, multiple social media posts and comments suggested that students wouldn't be able to graduate if the money wasn't paid, the superintendent says that's not true:
"Additionally, no student will be denied the opportunity to attend this weekend’s prom nor will their graduation be hindered as a result of this situation.”
He went on to say in a follow-up email to KGW:
"Our high school administration will be working directly with the parents involved to further discuss this issue within the week."
Some parents are now exploring legal options as a next step.