Loudoun Co. Superintendent under scrutiny for extensive travel amid school overdose crisis

After Loudoun County’s previous superintendent was fired and indicted, the Loudoun County School Board hired Aaron Spence as superintendent to make a difference for the embattled school district.

7News has learned through public records requests that Loudoun County Superintendent Spence has missed a month of the school year. And this is Spence’s first academic year on the job in Loudoun County.

This year, Spence attended the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) in Miami. Here’s the marketing video on the conference’s website. The video advertising the conference looks like a party for educators, showcasing Miami’s water activities and beach scene, nightlife, entertainment, yoga and more.

7News found pictures on social media of Spence in Miami, including a picture of Spence at the Black Bird Ordinary dance and nightclub on a Monday.

During the Miami conference, Spence was on a panel to discuss artificial intelligence.

The COSN conference schedule also includes luncheons, breakfasts, happy hours, network meetups, AI playgrounds, and cybersecurity and equity workshops for educators.

7News wanted to know if taxpayer dollars were spent on some of these trips. And we found they were.

According to a public records request, Spence spent $2,137.93 of taxpayer money in Miami. Of that, $799 for the conference registration, $664 for a hotel, and $662 for plane tickets.

Spence also visited Puerto Rico, San Diego and Richmond for conferences. That’s four trips in three months.

Spence was paid to be on a panel in San Diego for a discussion on “reclaiming the narrative.” The conference paid him $15,000 for two teaching sessions, according to emails obtained by 7News in a public records request.

7News found photos on social media of several conferences Spence has attended, including several photos of him in Puerto Rico at theInstitute for Education Innovation conference.

On Oct. 31 of last year, Spence was at a conference in Richmond. That was the same day news broke that Loudoun County Public Schools and Spence didn’t immediately tell parents about a string of student overdoses, some including fentanyl.

According to the sheriff’s office, eleven Park View High School students overdosed, becoming one of LCPS’ biggest school safety crises since two school sexual assaults in 2021.

On Nov. 1, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an Executive Order after LCPS failed to immediately notify parents of the overdoses. But that didn’t stop Spence from traveling to West Palm Beach for a conference the next day. Shortly after the trip to West Palm Beach, Spence attended a conference in Williamsburg, Va.

In all, Spence has gone to ten conferences that we know of so far just this school academic year.

Spence and LCPS didn’t respond to 7News’ many requests to ask Spence about his travel. That’s why 7News Reporter Nick Minock found Spence to ask him questions.

“Can you answer some questions?” Minock asked Spence outside the school administration building. “Can you tell us why you were traveling when students were overdosing at Park View High School? Was West Palm Beach too important to be at? Sir? How do you justify being away for a month of the school year going to places like Miami and San Diego?”

7News Reporter Nick Minock asks Loudoun County Superintendent Aaron Spence questions about his travel during a time when Park View High School students were overdosing. (7News)

7News Reporter Nick Minock asks Loudoun County Superintendent Aaron Spence questions about his travel during a time when Park View High School students were overdosing. (7News)

Spence did not answer 7News’ questions and Spence got in his car and drove away.

As of January, School Board Chair Melinda Mansfield has been approving Spence’s travel. 7News asked Mansfield for an interview several times. She never responded.

7News stopped by Mansfield’s house and knocked on her front door to ask her if she could make time to answer questions. But Mansfield didn’t answer and is refusing to answer questions about Spence’s travel.

Loudoun County School Board Chair Melinda Mansfield during a school board committee hearing. (7News)

Loudoun County School Board Chair Melinda Mansfield during a school board committee hearing. (7News)

Spence became superintendent on Sept. 1, 2023. Twenty-eight days later, he started traveling to conferences.

Spence makes a salary of $375,000 plus benefits. If the school board still employs Spence as of June 30, he gets a $20,000 bonus. And if the school board rates Spence at least proficient on his evaluation next month, he gets a raise.

Before Spence was hired, an LCPS survey showed parents and teachers wanted him to prioritize school safety, staff recruitment and retention, teacher quality, academic rigor, communication and transparency and more. And parents and teachers wanted their next superintendent to be accountable and responsible for their actions.

“Is he achieving those goals if he’s spending a significant amount of time traveling during the school year?” 7News asked Mansfield and Spence for an interview to ask that question more than a month ago. And again, Spence and Mansfield refuse to interview with 7News to answer questions about Spence’s travel.

According to 7News’ public records requests, Spence has spent at least 30 days of this academic school year at conferences, including 24 school days.

7News checked in with other local superintendents to see how many conferences they have attended so far this school year.

Spence tops the list with ten trips so far this school academic year.

The Superintendent in Prince William County has attended three in-state conferences, one conference in Washington, D.C., one conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and one conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to Prince William County Public Schools. That’s a total of six conferences.

The DCPS Chancellor has gone to six conferences, including three conferences in Washington, D.C., and three conferences out of state, according to D.C. Public Schools. The out-of-state conferences include the Aspen Urban Superintendent Network Retreat, the Chiefs for Change Annual Meeting, and the Wallace Foundation’s Equity-Centered Pipeline Initiative Convening.

The Alexandria City Superintendent has attended five conferences, including four conferences in Virginia and one conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

The Superintendent in Arlington County has attended three out-of-state conferences, according to Arlington County Public Schools, which include the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents conference, the National Association of Black School Educators conference, and the American Association of School Administrators conference.

The Fairfax County Superintendent has attended three conferences, including one conference in Virginia, one conference in Washington, D.C., and one conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, according to Fairfax County Public Schools.

Montgomery County Superintendent Monifa McKnight didn’t attend conferences when she was with the school division this academic year and the interim superintendent has not attended conferences since being appointed, according to Montgomery County Public Schools.

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