Jim Hoffman
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Free Press Opinion Columnist

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March 1, 2012
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HOFFMAN: Consultants overused by Colo. public schools

As I typed in a title under which to save this column, I accidentally ended up with "conslutants." Or was it an accident? Maybe it was a Freudian slip.

You have probably read that School District 51 recently discovered that some schools were overcrowded and boundary lines would need to be redrawn. This makes perfect sense. When the boundary lines of one school produces too many students there needs to be some adjustment which would send a number of the students to another nearby school.

What doesn't make sense is that a Boulder consultant brought this to their attention, a consultant that they have used for more than a decade.

We hear that they have a lean and mean administration here at School District 51. Yet, it would seem they would have someone on staff sufficiently intelligent to determine exactly these same facts without the necessity of paying an out-of-town expert. In fact, it would seem shameful that they do not, or, perhaps no one has been assigned this duty, or perhaps they need a consultant's opinion to justify decisions they have already made.

To be fair to District 51, this is not a phenomenon unique to our valley schools. Recent reports out of Denver indicate that far too many dollars flow from school budgets to consulting fees. Those familiar with education do not find this unusual, but, in these days of diminished budgets, it is time to revisit this consultant-friendly culture. Educational appropriations need to be spent wisely to educate our children. Too many school administrations turn to yet another consultant to ask: "How?"

Locally, there has been a traveling dog-and-pony show seeking local input into the school budget. There is talk of many things: Four day work weeks, reduced bus service, school closings, and more. When discussing reduction in services, bureaucrats and politicians always seem to trot out the least palatable. Working families would be hard pressed to provide daycare for that extra day of no school; poorer parents may not be able to provide transportation to school. When America is 20th in the world in terms of educating and employing our children in science and math, who would reasonably believe that less education is the answer?

Local voters denied the District 51 an increase in funding due to the simple reason they do not feel the current funds are being well spent. They believe the administration is top heavy and that new and perhaps unnecessary administrative positions continue to be created. The current public relations effort is not likely to change this perception. Individual voters remain unconvinced the district is willing to take the steps necessary to educate our children while being an acceptable fiduciary of our money. They are unconvinced the administration operates at a sufficiently competent level, a feeling that is probably reinforced by the news they need a consultant to know boundary lines need redrawn.

According to an investigation by the Denver Post, this consultant-driven administrative style is not unique to Mesa County. Over the last two years the study found that $9.4 million (or 35%) of the $26.6 million in federal dollars meant to turn around failing schools was spent on consultants. This again points out a major failing in the public sector. Schools are failing, administrators are failing, we give them money to do something better, and they hire a consultant to ask "how?"

In private industry they would be fired, and if the consultant had the correct prescription, maybe the consultant would be hired as a replacement. It simply does not make sense that consultants are hired to tell a supposedly competent person how their job should be done.

How did our state schools spend that $9.4 million? It was spent on instructional coaches for teaches (teaching teachers how to teach?), leadership coaches for principals, test data analysts, and three-day seminars on changing school culture. From where I sit, our principals should be able to coach teachers, the district should be able to provide principals leadership pointers, and school culture should be part of an ongoing program. If our teachers cannot teach, principals cannot lead, and, if as a whole, they do not understand the "culture" of education, one would be justified in wondering why they are employed.

Consultants may play a role in the improvement of education, but they should not supplant the role of employees already on payroll.

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Jim Hoffman is a local real estate broker and investor who is trying to move from semi-retired to retired. He needs to retire to devote more time to unpaid interests such as skiing, camping and fishing.


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 1, 2012 09:48PM Published Mar 1, 2012 09:47PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.