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BOE raises more question about district's spending

During Monday night’s board of education meeting, there were more questions raised among board members about how the district is spending its money.

Of particular interest was a $774,000 contract to a company called Pearson Education. The company will offer professional-development training to teachers in the district, said Deputy Superintendent Stefanie Phillips.

The training will focus mainly on the upcoming common-core curriculum that will be implemented in the state soon. “The state is changing how students are learning, and how the state is going to assess children differently,” said Phillips, explaining why the company’s services are needed.

Of the $774,000, $530,050 are Race to the Top Funds;, $121,975 are Title 1 Funds; and 121, 975 are Title 2 Funds, according to school officials.

• Race to the Top Funds are part of a competitive grant from the federal government, to encourage and reward states that are creating the conditions for education innovation and reform.

•Title 1 Funding is also federal money, but it is used to pay for programs for disadvantaged students.

•Title 2 Funding, again, is federal money, and is used “strictly” for professional development.

Board members voted 6-1, to remove the Pearson contract from the system’s purchasing report. Board Member Trinia Garret was not in attendance, and Wanda Smith abstained from the vote.

Board Chairperson Pam Adamson said she and other board members had concerns about the substantial amount of money going to Pearson Education. “Board members were just overwhelmed by the amount of money going to this one company,” she said.

She added that, when the contract was first presented to the board earlier, the services only dealt with the common-core curriculum. But what was presented Monday night, she said, “involved more than just the professional core curriculum.”

Phillips said she believes the apprehension from board members over the amount of money is due to a lack of understanding of the scope of training that has to be provided to teachers in the district.

A Request for Proposals (RFPs) was advertised for teacher-training providers, and during the bidding process, Pearson Education had the best bid, Phillips said. The training, through Pearson Education, would be designated for Grade Effective Lead Teachers (GELTS), she said.

Board Member Jessie Goree said she agreed with Phillips that it may be a lack of understanding among board members, but maybe the lack of understanding “is vice versa.”

Like the majority of the board, she said her question is why the district will have to spend the $774,000, to re-deliver information to teachers in the district. “I think there’s a more economical way to offer training to our teachers,” said Goree. She suggested that the district have one person from the central office get the bulk of the training, and in turn, have that person train the teachers at the schools.

As a result, she said, the district could use some of the money being used to support the contract to give to school personnel, instead of spending it all on big corporations.

Adamson said she supports Goree in her efforts to find ways to give more money to teachers, but when it comes to federal dollars, there are restrictions on what the district is allowed to do with the money.

Phillips said federal funds, especially Race to the Top Funds, are restricted to professional development. “We can’t take money [federal funds] and give it to anybody,” she said, “The board [members] do not understand the district can only do what the states says we can do.” She said the money can only be used for teacher training, school reforms, and purchasing a new curriculum.

Goree argued, however, that Title I funding –– according to her research –– can be used to compensate teachers. Adamson said Goree is correct to an extent, that Title I funds can be used to give teachers a stipend, if they’re attending some type of training, but salary increases are not an option.

The fate of the contract rests in the board’s hands, according to Phillips. She said once a contract is voted down, it is up to one of the board members to have the contract put back on the table for discussion. She said she is not clear when this issues with the contract will be addressed again, but is currently talking to the board of education’s officers to find out what the next step will be.

The issue needs to be resolved quickly, she said, now that the district has entered into its second year with Race to the Top grant funds. “It’s crucial that we get our teachers trained,” she said.

Said Adamson, though: “We want to know where they’re [the district] are going [with this contract], and we [school board members] want to understand.”