Consulting contract questioned

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 13, 2009

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The Department of Education could pay a consulting firm as much as $250,000 over five months to work on the state’s reading and mathematics efforts, a contract members of the state’s top education board described Thursday as too costly.

State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said Michael Fullan Enterprises Inc. will provide professional development seminars for teachers and principals, help the education department devise a 10-year strategy for student literacy and numeracy improvements and train department staff on how to provide technical support to schools in those efforts.

‘‘Mr. Fullan is the guru on literacy and numeracy in the classroom,’’ Pastorek told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

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The work will begin March 15 and end by Aug. 31. Pastorek said the contract will include an amount not to exceed $250,000, but could cost less.

Though the contract was approved Thursday by BESE, three of the board’s members opposed it, citing the large cost and short work time. The opponents were Dale Bayard of Lake Charles, Louella Givens of New Orleans and Linda Johnson of Plaquemine.

‘‘We just seem to write a lot of checks and let the money flow,’’ Bayard said.

Givens said it was difficult to support spending education dollars on a consulting contract when the board agreed to a school funding formula for next year that doesn’t contain the 2.75 percent annual growth traditionally included. Board members said the state was too cash-strapped to afford an increase, so they aren’t asking lawmakers for one in next year’s budget.

‘‘Sometimes when you can’t do the basics, you have to let the frills go,’’ Givens said.

But other board members talked of Fullan’s expertise as they supported contract approval.

‘‘I know it’s a lot of money, but the contractor is renowned,’’ said BESE member Glenny Lee Buquet of Houma. ‘‘They’re buying the expertise of people that have worked across the world.’’

It was unclear Thursday if the Fullan contract was put out for competitive bid. The education department didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry about the contract.

Last year, lawmakers agreed to let Pastorek sidestep public bid requirements for educational consulting contracts up to $250,000 through June 30 because Pastorek said he had several consultants he wanted to hire that he thought would be best for the work. At the time, he listed literacy and numeracy among those types of consulting contracts.