Gone fishing

May 25, 2006

In the corporate and nonprofit worlds, bosses routinely use off-site retreats in plush surroundings and other organizational rewards to motivate and re-energize employees - all on the company dime. So it's hardly outrageous that a high-ranking official in Baltimore's school system would think about using public funds to charter a boat for a fishing trip last week that was supposed to reward his hard-working staff and allow them to engage in some strategic planning at the same time. But that may not have been the best thought when city schools are still struggling to overcome financial and academic challenges as well as regain public trust and confidence.

The official in question is Eric Letsinger, the system's chief operating officer, who is in charge of school maintenance and facilities, among other things. Did he do anything wrong when he chartered a boat to host several of his top staffers and a city Department of Public Works employee who has worked with them? That's doubtful.

Mr. Letsinger says that he considered using public funds for the outing when it was initially conceived as a strategic planning and team building retreat several weeks ago - and even submitted the requisite forms. But once it became a day of rest and relaxation - on employee vacation time - he says he personally paid the $1,600 bill.

Mr. Letsinger has been placed on paid administrative leave, and schools CEO Bonnie S. Copeland has promised a "swift and thorough" investigation into this and other allegations of possible misconduct by senior staff members. This is perfectly proper.

For Mr. Letsinger, who is credited with instituting tighter procedures that have saved the school system at least hundreds of thousands of dollars, and for the school system, which is entrusted with the careful spending of a billion dollars, let this be the only one that got away.

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