BY MICHAEL WALTON
TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools spent nearly $3,800 on substitutes for two high school principals who attended an education conference in China.
Substitute principal costs boosted the overall estimated trip expenses to just shy of $10,800.
Superintendent Stephen Cousins initially said the eight-day November trip to China would cost TCAPS taxpayers about $7,000. On Thursday he said he was unaware of the substitute principals' costs until this week.
Officials at West and Central High School made the decisions to bring in subs, he said.
"This is a decision at the principals' discretion," Cousins said. "They are the ones who know best what their buildings need."
West and Central high school Principals Joe Tibaldi and Rick Vandermolen left for the week-long trip Nov. 7 with Cousins, Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr, International School at Bertha Vos Director Katie Bonnie, and Communications Director Alison Arnold.
Former TCAPS administrators Roger Wood and Dick Townsend filled in at West and Central, respectively.
The district paid each sub for 56 hours of work. Wood received $21.88 per hour, while Townsend received $40.62 per hour, TCAPS Human Resources Director Cindy Berck said.
Berck said the difference in hourly rates stemmed from a two-tier pay structure approved by the Board of Education. Substitute administrators expected to work at least 30 days in a calender year are paid at the higher rate.
Wood worked as a TCAPS administrator for 18 years before he retired in 2000. He most recently served 10 years as an assistant principal at West High School.
Townsend worked in the district for 29 years. He retired in 2003 after spending three years as a principal at Central High School.
One West administrator — Assistant Principal Joe Esper — was filing in at Interlochen Elementary School when Tibaldi departed for China.
Tibaldi said his school needed the extra help to address students' and parents' needs in a timely manner.
"When you've got a question about your son's grade or something you don't want to be waiting around for an answer," he said.
Vandermolen said Central Assistant Principal Toby Tisdale took over principal duties during the China trip, and Townsend served in Tisdale's place.
"We felt if we did not have an assistant principal in (Tisdale's) office, attention to students and support to them would not be available," Vandermolen said.
China's Hanban Institute, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, covered roughly 70 percent of the six officials' travel bills.
District administrators returned from the trip with, among other things, tentative agreements for exchange programs with three Chinese schools.