$27,500 consultant fee raises concerns on board

$27,500 consultant fee raises concerns on board

July 20th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Document: Independent Contractor Agreement

Sharon Faber's contract with the Hamilton County Department of Education

Document: Hamilton County Department of Education Consultant Request form

The Hamilton County Department of Education will spend nearly $30,000 for a consultant to spend 11 days with teachers at one school.

The $2,500 daily fee charged by a Cumming, Ga., educator raised some eyebrows on the school board, which debated at length the value of such contracted work at its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Sharon Faber will receive $27,500 for her literacy work with all K-5 teachers at Clifton Hills Elementary over 11 days during the 2012-13 school year. Faber is a former teacher, principal, school district administrator and university professor who has written several books on literacy. The $27,500 includes travel and lodging expenses.

The contract will be paid by the school's Title I funds, federal dollars designated for high-poverty schools.

School board member Greg Martin pulled the contract from the consent agenda for discussion, and asked whether someone closer to home could provide similar teacher training and questioned if the expense was an efficient use of funds.

"Twenty-seven thousand dollars -- that's more than some people in this community make in a year. And that's in 11 days," he said. "I'm not saying it's not worth it. I'm just asking if we can do it more efficiently."

Board member Rhonda Thurman objected to the cost and the use of substitute teachers while Clifton Hill's teachers were in training. Faber will work with teachers four days while school is out of session. But the other seven contract days occur on regular school days, pulling some teachers out of their classrooms.

"I'm a lot more worried about the education of the students than I am with the education of the teachers," she said. "We get paid to educate students, not to educate teachers."

Board Chairman Mike Evatt said Title I funds are restrictive and schools can spend them in certain areas.

"They are specifically for certain things like staff development," he said. "They can't be used for anything else."

Still, schools have discretion in how they use those funds. Assistant Superintendent Robert Sharpe said principals often select to work with educational consultants in math or literacy because the school district doesn't have the in-house capacity to provide such intense training. And prices for such contracts vary, he said.

"You'll see higher and lower. I would say that's [$2,500] on the upper end of the scale," he said.

For that kind of money, board members said they wanted to determine whether the training was effective. Sharpe said student achievement and gains in test scores would be the ultimate measure of effectiveness.

Officials noted the repeated use of some consultants who have proven successful.

"Our school leaders understand it's high stakes," said board member David Testerman. "They look for people who have a reputation of making effective changes."

Faber was one of two consultant contracts on the board's consent agenda, which usually contains items considered non-controversial. The board also pulled a $14,100 contract for a math consultant to work six days at Tyner Middle Academy for discussion.

Both contracts were approved with a 5-1 vote, with Thurman casting the only dissenting vote. Board members Chip Baker, Joe Galloway and Linda Mosley were absent.