Brett Shipp and WFAA: Lazy, Irresponsible Reporting on DISD

Last night, Brett Shipp summoned every ounce of moral outrage he could to deliver his report about 166 profligate DISD employees traveling to Toronto to attend a convention for educators who teach reading. Just have a look at his lead:

“At the same time 169 jobs are being cut at DISD central administration, nearly that same number of employees decided to jet off to Canada for the International Reading Conference.

He makes it sound like the job cuts were a bad thing. The implication is that the district couldn’t afford to keep those people employed but it could afford to send other teachers to Canada. Listen, the job cuts were intended to decrease layers of management within the bloated administration. They were a good thing. The move saved the district $9 million per year. (The DMN buried this story a couple weeks ago, deep in the Metro section.) Okay, then notice this: “[E]mployees decided to jet off to Canada …” “Jet off”? Shipp expects them to fly from Dallas to Toronto on a prop plane? In a dirigible? Message to Shipp and Channel 8: in the year 2007, air travel via jet plane is commonplace.

That’s just the beginning. Shipp’s report made several more observations about the trip that demonstrate bias, a lack of critical thinking, or both.

Look through his entire report. At the end, I see two bills that look like they spent too much. The big one was the $418 bill by two folks. Crab! Lobster! As if these foodstuffs are eaten only by kings. That bill, though, is carefully made to sound bigger than it is, as Shipp says they “filled their plates over two nights.” It’s actually more than $200 a night, for which teachers should be told, “Hey, check yourself. Next time you spend that much, it’s coming out of your pocket.” Instead, Shipp treats the matter as though it were a high crime. Which it is not. It’s not a big deal. We’re talking small potatoes here. Or small crabs and lobsters.

Shipp says the TOTAL cost to DISD for 166 people taking the trip was $300,000 (though, oddly, the story in the DMN says it was only $265,000). That means that the average cost for a five-day trip (the conference ran Sunday to Thursday) was $1,807 per teacher/principal. Seriously? That’s awful? But it gets worse/better/less a big deal. Because that total includes, as Shipp puts it, $50,000 in higher airfares because of late bookings (if average cost was $400 for round trip, assuming that every late fee was $1,400, which he clearly wants us to do when he says “as much as $1,400”). Okay, so maybe they should have gotten their act together and booked earlier. Okay, fine. Beancounter Shipp wants to harangue them for that. But take OUT the $50K in average higher airfare for late booking, and you’re talking about $1,500 per person spent for the entire five-day trip, which counts airfare, food, transportation, and lodging. So $300 a day. This is a problem? This is worth a “special investigation”?

Shipp saves his kicker for the end. This is the most insane part. He says the most “exotic” stop was the Sultan’s Tent, which features belly dancing. Cut to grainy images of belly dancers, with folding money tucked into their waistbands. Shipp intones, “What taxpayer wouldn’t surrender all fiscal sensibilities at the drop of a veil … ?” The clear implication is that this is tantamount to going to a strip club. Please do me a favor and go to the restaurant’s website. It seems not only classy but cool. Also, it seems LIKE A HELLUVA DEAL! Because the four-course menu is only $39.95, prix fixe. Shipp also calls it a “Zagat-rated restaurant,” as if there could be nothing more opulent. Everyone is in Zagat. It’s lowest-common denominator reviewing by “the readers.” It’s like calling a restaurant “Internet-rated.”

There’s more. I could go on. Shipp gets all worked up over some of the hotel rooms costing $340 per night. Right. That’s crazy. And the kids today are spending $3 on coffee. Back in the old days, a cup of coffee was 25 cents! What’s going on in this world?! Please.

Now. Here’s the thing. I’ll stop here for now. After you’ve watched Shipp’s report, go read the Morning News story. It is far more balanced. It puts the convention in context, lets you know how valuable the trip was. It explains that the “tax money” spent on the trip actually came from a federal grant (as opposed to your local property taxes, which is what Shipp wants you to believe). And the DMN article wraps it up this way:

“DISD used federal guidelines to determine its daily meal allowance for attendees. Last spring, that federal rate was $124 a day. DISD capped it at $109. So even a $65 lobster was allowable because the teacher did not exceed the $109 daily meal limit. Five teachers did exceed their meal allowances.”

Did you catch that? Five teachers exceeded their meal allowances. Five teachers! That’s what we’re talking about here. Some sloppy travel planning and five teachers spending too much on food.

Brett Shipp, you should be ashamed of yourself. Remember when you broke the DPD fake drugs scandal? I do. And back then, I thought you were a hell of a reporter.

–Eric Celeste contributed to this post

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Comments

  • Laura powell

    I am a mother of private school children and very happy Dallas ISD children. As a parent and a taxpayer I am only sorry that more teachers did not go to Canada and that the teachers and staff did not order great desserts. They deserve it and so much more.

  • the tuna

    Too bad the country doesn’t have more really pathetic, slipshod journalists like Brett Shipp at WFAA!!

    Quoting the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children:

    In a strong year for local television news, Dallas` WFAA-TV was especially potent, earning a Peabody for four reports that underscored its commitment to investigative work: Money for Nothing revealed slipshod lending practices by the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The Buried and the Dead raised questions about the state of Texas` oversight on the gas pipeline industry. Television Justice looked into a dubiously cozy relationship between a “To Catch a Predator” unit of NBC Dateline and the police in Murphy, Texas. Kinder Prison explored a Homeland Security prison holding immigrant families near Austin, Texas.