Kate Royals of the Clarion-Ledger busted the Jackson Public School District for awarding a $3.5 million contract to some "consultants" who worked with the district to improve academic performance. The newspaper reported:
A Ridgeland-based educational consulting company is entering the second year of a $3 million contract with the Jackson Public School District.
By the end of this school year, The Kirkland Group will have made $3.5 million in the past two and a half years working with teachers and principals at struggling schools in the district.
Several in top positions in the company are former employees of the Jackson Public School District. Executive Vice President Chan Cleveland worked in both JPS and Hinds County schools, while head coach Randy Bernamonti worked as an assistant superintendent in the district for seven years, according to LinkedIn.
When asked whether that poses any conflict of interest, Abby Webley, executive director of JPS federal programs, said it was a benefit.
"To me, when you hire someone who has worked with the district, that lessens the learning curve. That person understands where the needs are and understands where the challenges are," she said.
The group's work began in January of 2014 when the district paid The Bailey-Kirkland Group (The Kirkland Group temporarily merged with the Bailey Education Group) $493,000 to provide professional development and other consultative services to teachers and administrators.
"At the time we had 35 schools identified as D or F (by the 2012-2013 accountability ratings), we had a lot of new principal leadership in our schools, and I think we hired roughly 200 new teachers at that time," Webley said of the decision to hire the group. "We had a total restructuring that year, and had to bring in a group that could help us."
The services are paid for using Title I money, federal funds given to school districts with high numbers of students from low-income families. JPS receives the most Title I funding of any district in the state, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.
Six months later, the district then issued requests for proposals for the larger contract for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. According to the district, seven other companies besides The Kirkland Group submitted proposals, which a committee of administrators reviewed, eventually selecting The Kirkland Group, the second lowest bidder.
Green Education Services submitted the lowest bid for the contract, but it was not chosen because it didn't address certain needs in the district's request for proposals and "did not have the capacity" to meet the district's needs, Webley said. The school board then approved the contract with The Kirkland Group.
The Kirkland Group did not respond to specific questions about its work with JPS and other school districts but did issue an emailed statement.
"The Kirkland Group has a long standing record of improving the academic performance and achievement of students; Dr. Cedrick Gray's number one Wildly Important Goal (WIGs) for the Jackson Public School District," an email from spokesperson Karla McCullough said.
McCullough also said of the 18 schools in JPS whose performance increased in the 2013-2014 school year, it worked with 15 of them..... Rest of article.