Ann Arbor school district spends 33% more on contracts for consultants this year, budget shows
The Ann Arbor school district is poised to spend 33 percent more on contracts with outside consultants from its general fund this school year than last, budget documents show.
But spending more on consultants doesn’t mean the district’s overall budget has increased, Superintendent Todd Roberts said.
“The budget didn’t go up,” he said. “It was just that the money within each budget was chosen to be spent differently.”
The largest new expenditure was a $55,000 contract given to former Ann Arbor News reporter Casey Hans to create a district newspaper and write stories for it. Other smaller contracts - some awarded to former district employees - were given for professional development.
Roberts said money for Hans’ contract came from backing down on the district’s advertising buys and transferring some money into the communications budget from another district budget.
In total, the district is set to pay $427,733 this school year out of its general fund if it uses all its contracted consultant hours. Last school year, the district paid $321,057 out of its general fund for consultants, district financial records show.
That’s still down significantly from the 2005-06 school year when, under then-Superintendent George Fornero, the district spent more than $600,000 from its general fund and another $290,000 from its bond construction fund on consultants.
But the $427,000 figure doesn’t represent all the money the district is spending on consultants. In this school year, the district expects to pay a total of more than $1.3 million on consultants. More than $950,000 of that amount will be reimbursed through various grants, including special education reimbursements from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.
In fact, 73.6 percent - or more than $1 million - of the money expected to be paid this year to consultants is for special education services. However, nearly 80 percent of that cost is covered by various grants or the WISD’s special education millage reimbursement.
“The amounts of money in those contracts are largely based on caseload,” Roberts said. “We have to provide those services. In most of those cases, it’s much less costly to contract for those services than to have someone on staff.”
In addition to paying a staff member’s salary and health benefits, the district would also have to pay nearly 20 percent of that employee’s salary into the state’s retirement system, Roberts said.
The largest contract goes to Pediatric Therapy Associates, which receives more than $730,000 to provide physical, occupational and speech therapy to district special education students. The district’s general fund pays for only about 17 percent, or $125,000, of that total.
See the list of contracts
Excluding special education, the largest expenditure for consultants’ work is in professional development.
The district has used consultants for everything from helping to develop strategies to close the achievement gap to giving lectures on bullying.
Some of that strikes parent Tina Erie, who has two high school daughters in the district, as wrong.
“I would think they’d have people on staff that could handle stuff like that,” she said. “Aren’t there teachers or administrators who know those topics?”
Roberts said there are, and the district often uses them. But it also brings in consultants to give staff members a new perspective or start a new program or approach in the district.
The largest district contract for professional development is with the Pacific Educational Group, which has been working in the district for several years on equity issues and the achievement gap.
While the achievement gap between white and minority students is closing in the district, it’s hard to credit one group like PEG, Roberts said. But he also said PEG has been instrumental in helping to keep the focus on the issue.
Several other contracts in the last couple of years have gone to retired Ann Arbor staff members.
For example, former deputy superintendent Bob Galardi got a $10,000 contract in the 2008-09 school year to help develop personal curriculum programs for the district. And a group made up of current and former district employees led by former principal Harry Hayward got a $3,000 contract this school to consult on the same topic.
Roberts said hiring former staff members helps the district.
“You’re looking at someone who knows the district well and can come in and provide some targeted help for us,” he said.
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-623-2534.