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Schools, you just won the state's highest honors. Where are you headed next?

Not to Disneyland.

California schools chief Tom Torlakson has canceled an annual awards ceremony for more than 300 top performing schools in light of a new Department of Education ban on non-essential state travel. The California School Recognition celebration was slated to take place May 20 at the Disneyland Hotel.

It's believed to be the first time the state has canceled the annual gala in the 25-year-old program's history, though there was no party in the initial years, said Craig Cheslog, principal adviser to Torlakson.

"The celebration was the culmination of months, even years of work by school communities to improve student performance and to close the achievement gap," Torlakson wrote Friday in a letter to local school officials.

"This year, however, our state's budget crisis will affect even this joyous program," he continued. "In light of the fiscal emergency facing our schools and my decision to restrict non-essential travel in a way similar to the Governor's recent Executive Order, I have made the difficult decision to cancel this year's awards event."

The winning schools include: 97 California Distinguished Schools, 209 Title I Academic Achievement recipients and 33 National Blue Ribbon nominees. Some schools won more than one award.

The event estimated state costs of $265,000, including $228,000 for the ceremony and $37,000 in travel costs for 40 Department of Education staff members, Cheslog said. Torlakson instituted his own non-essential travel ban today, three days after Gov. Jerry Brown said state workers could only go on trips that were "mission critical."

Representatives from the schools pay their own way, and it would have been up to districts whether they could have used public funding, Cheslog said. Torlakson didn't want schools paying for the trip as they are facing deep cuts in the unresolved state budget.

Disneyland may be the "Happiest Place on Earth," but parents know it is hardly the cheapest. Based on an Internet search this afternoon, a standard room at the Disneyland Hotel costs $432.90 a night, with taxes, on the weekend of May 20-22, though that is likely more expensive than the advance group rate.

Asked whether his department had considered relocating to a cheaper spot, Cheslog said, "We can't do that with an event this large on such short notice." He said that the awards ceremony had taken place at Disneyland as long as there has been a dinner.


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