published Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Hamilton County Board of Education questions consultant spending

WHAT'S NEXT

The Hamilton County school board meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the central office at 3074 Hickory Valley Road.

Federal Budgets Consultants
Federal Budgets Consultants
Hamilton County education agenda
Hamilton County education agenda

Several Hamilton County Board of Education members say they'll question the proposed spending of more than $300,000 on consultants to work with teachers throughout the school district.

In a meeting tonight, administrators are asking the board to approve about $343,000 in federal dollars for consultants, an issue that created sparks at last month's board meeting.

In July, board members questioned spending $27,500 for a Georgia educator to work with teachers over 11 days at Clifton Hills Elementary School. The expense ultimately was approved by a 5-1 vote, but the board asked for a more complete list of consultants used throughout the system.

The contractors on tonight's agenda charge between $343 and $2,900 per day with total fees ranging between $2,000 and $60,000. Some fees are covered with Title I dollars, designated for high-poverty schools, while others are paid for with federal School Improvement Grants, designed to turn around low-performing schools.

Some of the projects include:

• A $21,500 contract with the Teacher Development Group to work with math teachers at East Ridge Middle School over 10 days;

• A $60,000 contract with Battelle For Kids to spend 60 days working with all teachers and administrators at Howard School on diversity training and best practices in math and literacy;

• A $13,000 contract with Columbia University's Teachers College work with Tyner Middle Academy teachers and administrators on language arts over five days;

• A $12,500 contract with former Howard Principal Edna Varner to spend 25 days working in the school district's Innovation Zone schools: Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary and Woodmore Elementary.

"I am just blown away, blown away at the amount of consultants we have and the money we spend on consultants," said school board member Rhonda Thurman, who voted against two consultant contracts last month.

While the school system receives grants, Thurman said it still costs schools and students because of the time teachers are pulled out of the classroom.

"If the teacher's not there, the kids are not learning," she said.

Robert Sharpe, assistant superintendent for education and leadership for the school system, said administrators prefer a new model of professional development that brings trainers to work with teachers in their classrooms, rather than putting teachers in a meeting room or sending them off to conferences.

"We prefer the idea of bringing the training here," he said.

While consultant fees are high, it's still cheaper to bring in one trainer than it is to fly teachers out to training sessions, he said. Teacher training is a worthwhile investment and always will be necessary to ensure teachers remain up to date on the latest research and practices, he added.

"We feel the investment is worthwhile because it directly impacts how our teachers interact with students," Sharpe said.

School board member David Testerman, a former principal, wondered if some of the training is necessary and if it could be done better at the local level.

"The consulting list just seems to be getting bigger and bigger," he said. "I just want to know if our teachers and principals think we're getting our money's worth."

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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