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Taking a 'spin' on fed cruise

| Tuesday, June 4, 2002

A merry mix-up involving the management of a preschool program for poor kids and a cruise its staff took on one of the “Fun Ships” of the Carnival Cruise Lines has created a looming PR problem for Preschool Development Inc.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that taxpayers footed the bill for the cruise, a “planned retreat” to Nova Scotia costing $13,778. An audit by the U. S. inspector general for the 12-month period ending July 2000 revealed that 25 people sailed, including five board members, 16 managers and four parents of children enrolled in Head Start.

Alas, federal regulators later determined the planning could've been done locally. The preschool “expended Head Start funds on activities that were unallowable, inappropriate or unreasonable,” the inspector general said.

The Carnival Cruise Lines home page indicates the “Fun Ships” offer dining options including steak and lobster, and a number of choices for the wine connoisseur.

Entertainment includes nightclubs, show lounges, comedians and “Vegas-style” shows. Casinos offer “slot machines, blackjack, roulette and Caribbean stud poker.” However, “Wheel of Fortune” is not available on all ships.

And for the young traveler blessed with a head start in life, the cruise line has “Camp Carnival.” "Pizza Pig-Out," "Learn Your Colors," "Can You Count!" and "Fun Shape Bingo” are some of the activities.

Eugenia Boggus, the former director of Preschool Development Inc., said anyone who gambled paid his or her own gaming costs.

Kathie Lee Gifford probably wasn't thinking about Boggus and her staff when the celebrity spokeswoman sang, “If You Could See Me Now” and “Ain't We Got Fun” in Carnival commercials.

Preschool Development Inc. is in dire need of a public relations expert. And, by happy coincidence, one is flying to the rescue. SPINDOCTORPERSON! is this column's resident superhero.

Armed with rose-colored glasses and his magic two-way mirror to peer deep into the souls of focus groups, SPINDOCTORPERSON! helps explain away the mismanagement … er, um, the “misunderstandings” that sometimes get our movers and shakers in trouble with a dazed and confused public.

At the next Preschool Development Inc. news conference, SPINDOCTORPERSON! suggests the following snappy sound bites to explain away some probing questions, pre-empt others from being asked and subtly imply the accusations may be bogus.

  • “We were looking for innovative techniques to teach our youngsters numbers — like The Count on 'Sesame Street.' We needed a cruise ship with a 'World Class Casino' to observe people playing 21 at the blackjack table — as we discreetly counted cards.”

  • “We had to have a cruise ship with a wide selection of wines because … um … er … uh … would you believe Cookie Monster inspired our soon-to-be-announced 'Wine Monster'"?

  • “Yes, the cruise ship had wonderful food — and lots of it! But our eating was ‘research' since we were … um … creating a character inspired by Chef Brockett on 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.' Our character's name was going to be … uh … Chef Boggus• Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket, Chef Boggus!”

    SPINDOCTORPERSON! has done all he can. Now he's being summoned to 100 Art Rooney Ave. to be on standby the next time wide receiver Plaxico Burress socializes a bit too much.

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