You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 6:02 a.m.

Ann Arbor school district spends 33% more on contracts for consultants this year, budget shows

By David Jesse

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.


Todd Roberts

“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 He can be reached at or at 734-623-2534.



Thu, Mar 4, 2010 : 4:27 a.m.

I think there is a bug in the sequencing of articles. If I go to News-->Education---> I couldn't find this article under Featured or Everything--it seemed to skip from about Feb. 25 to Feb. 7. I could only find it under Popular...


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 5:15 p.m.

I sure am not crowing about any progress we've made in eliminating the education gap. Some comments seem to question the need for consultation about improving our rates of success with all students; I'm a firm believer that the money paid to PEG is critical to increasing our success in these efforts.

Lisa Starrfield

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:27 a.m.

Gloriagirl, The state requires that the district provide more than 30 hours of professional development every year. This is law. Some of this PD time is simply meeting with our coworkers to work on curriculum supports, some of it is training on new curriculum/software, some of it is done by people in house and some is done by outsiders. If the district wants us to use a specific curriculum or piece of software, they also provide training for that. That frequently is part of the 34 hours of PD but not always. In addition to the mandated annual PD time, the state requires that teachers take 6 graduate credits every five years to maintain certification; we are given no financial assistance in these courses and of course, must complete them on our own time. This is not any different than in industry except that we are required to continue to take classes and most people are not. In industry, professional development is often provided by the employer. For example, my father has to take training classes several weeks a year in addition to the computer based course work he is required to do on an ongoing basis (again provided by his employer). My mother also used to receive training on a regular basis when she worked as a teller at a bank.


Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 4:28 p.m.

Steven - I worked 13 years as an editor for three school newsletters while my children attended AAPS. Even transformed the paper newsletter version to online email updates. And I was very good at it (if I don't say so myself). As a matter of fact I came to know many long-term volunteers. And as usual, under appreciated by the school system.


Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 12:12 p.m.

Dave, can you follow this story up with similar school districts such as Plymouth canton or Utica? Is there any conflict of interest between consultants and Board members or administrators such as previous relationships or former colleagues? Are these contracts competitively bid or is there an rfp and peer review process? If not why not? I understand consultants do not need to meet the same criteria for credentials as other contracts, a big loophole for cronyism. Professional Development in private sector industries are the responsibilities of the individual. Does the district fund professional development then pay step increases? Please check they questions out. Thanks


Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 8:23 a.m.

LGChelsea, you don't answer the question, you just say they are operating legally. Maybe you are in a position to know. So my guess is that the school, when billing Medicaid, get paid by the feds and state for special ed services, then bills medicaid,?through private consultating firms?" so they have more money for special ed or general fund. Is that fair? Double dipping, especially after Medicaid was cut over 300 million for poor sick people, people who don't get fully funded for their own health care strikes me as not right. People on Medicaid get shortchanged enough when it comes to the health care they recieve, the school should keep their hands off it.


Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 8:18 a.m.

Bookbag, interesting you pick only one metric, test scores to say the district is improving...what about attendance, graduation rates, rates of suspension, what about measuring performance post high school graduation to really see how well all kids were prepared for their lives from the local school district, etc to get a feel for the whole picture... Last year the district got dinged by the DOJ for the achievement gap...the year is not done this year, no time to crow about the districts achievements cleaning up that mess...


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 6:28 p.m.

rosber- Re: Medicaid billing. The state allows all districts to bill for some services for some students. Ann Arbor is operating legally.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 2:13 p.m.

If teachers are successful, students learn - now matter how we have to inspire, personalize or convince the student that s/he is capable of learning what's being taught. If students learn, we are successful. We need PEG to keep inspiring, personalizing and convincing the AAPS that we are capable of teaching all of our students successfully. Of course, education is a collaborative endeavor, so effort is necessary from all parts of this complex equation. Our national test scores tell us we are improving at successfully teaching all of our students, but we have not achieved that goal yet. Education is a civil right, that is denied as long as we have predictable "education gaps."


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 1:34 p.m.

I'm usually critical of district spending, but not in this case. Suppose you need a reading specialist. You could put someone on the payroll and pay salary plus horrendously expensive fringes. Or you could hire them as a consultant for two years, pay them less than the total cost of an employee. No fringes, no paying 1/2 of social security, etc. And little HR work. It's basically privatizing. As long as the consultant does the work, it's OK with me.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 12:51 p.m.

The achievement gap exist for lots of reasons, but one I see clearly is the district presents material,lots of material, but doesn't follow up with kids to see if they really know it. Kids can stay at first grade level and go up the years in school, I know a few of these kids, and while at quick glance, it looks like they are getting help, it just looks like it they aren't getting the help they need. The district has a lot of policies that contribute directly to the achievement gap, policies that they would defend all they way down the line, it's like the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, and if they did, they would disown it. Having a consultant come in and keep the focus speaks to the difficulty of negotiating success in this system, success that really comes from having very involved parents and high functioning kids. Other kids, for whatever their reasons, get lost in the shuffle. The more kids do not have those absolute drivers of success, money and very involved parents, the less the system is teaches those kids, and the less those kids get. Them that has, gets at AAPS. And it is not about the absolute dollars spent, it is about expectation from staff across the board for these kids.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 12:39 p.m.

JNS, Teachers already have to earn 6 graduate credit hours every 5 years to maintain certification and must pay for those credit hours. That is in addition to the more than 30 hours of professional development the school district is required by law to provide. Of course, we also have to be trained on software the district mandates we use and on the curriculum the district mandates we use; since it is mandated by the district, the district provides it.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 12:25 p.m.

We used to have curriculum coordinators for all subjects. They are invaluable, helping to order supplies needed for the curriculum, providing training for new teachers on the curriculum, gathering resources and supplements, and more. I believe we are down to one (or at least, I only have ever seen one).


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 12:24 p.m.

After reading all the comments here in, I am not stunned by reading the above. 82% of the budget goes towards the classroom. From what I see here, consultants make up for most of the classroom budget. There are people within the system that do a consultants work. The administration also decides for the custodians that they need an outside contractor when for the most part they can do the job better then outside help. The teaching aspect really does need to tone and slim down. Instead of temporary solutions, like privatizing drivers and custodians, we need to make permanent solutions like reducing what goes on inside the classrooms. Teachers can take classroom training during the summer and pay for at least half of it. They can get a tax write off on this because it is job related. This and also pay more for their medical and retirement. Stop picking on the lower paid plebs and pick apart the classrooms. I think we can save more there then anywhere else.

Elizabeth Nelson

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 11:20 a.m.

Does anyone commenting on former employees as consultants have any experience of seeing it first hand? One example: the schools employ a reading specialist who is a former teacher with decades experience. Why is this necessary? Well, it's not technically necessary, but it's hugely helpful in situations like brand-new teachers who might still be learning the practical strategies in the classroom (or figuring out the less-than-conventional learner). It's hardly an 'old boys' network...

Elizabeth Nelson

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

I think it's difficult to understand the value of some of these services unless you actually ask someone in the system. E.g. A teacher friend of mine assures me that the curriculum consultants perform an absolutely necessary function. Now, the process of consulting it out or attempting to assign the task in-house, I have no idea how feasible that would be, but I trust a teacher when she tells me that this function is essential. I don't know any teachers or principals who have oodles of spare hours to devote to extra committees or whatever else would be required to accomplish this task. It's not a complete waste of time to consider these dribs and drabs that contribute to a budget shortfall-- surely it adds up. I don't think Todd Roberts or anyone else does an adequate job of defending the money thrown at addressing the achievement gap. There is clearly no pressure to justify it if a consultant can be paid to merely help the district keep 'focus.' Ironically, a progressive community like ours that is probably LEAST likely to forget/ignore/not care about the achievement gap feels obligated to spend money (and make other decisions) to prove it even more...

Steven Harper Piziks

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

@MjC The problem with relying on volunteers for anything is that volunteers are notorious for vanishing and leaving their programs high and dry--they have no stake in the work. Contracted employees are more stable and will get the job done reliably.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 11:01 a.m.

Well, the defintion of a consultant is: 1) an "expert" living more than 50 miles away; 2) a former educator usually from within the District who is part of the ol boy network.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 10:37 a.m.

Outside companies see what happens in other places. Private companies hire outside consulting firms every day. If they hire good ones it improves their mission. Remember the goal of the AAPS should not be to save money. It should be to provide the best education possible.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 10:29 a.m.

I can't believe the District is still hiring a consultant to help with the achievement gap or as Dr. Roberts says.."helping to keep focus on the issue." It was pointed out several years ago that about every ten years there is a renewed interest in the achievement gap, a big controversy follows, a consultant is hired to come in and help quiet things down until the next ten year cycle rolls around. I see the strategy has changed. Now, we have a consultant hanging around all the time to help keep focus on the issue so that it doens' t become a big controversy and shed negative light on the district. My question is why do the District need to spend money on a consultant when it should be engaging the community in this effort, especially the African American community?


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 10:19 a.m.

What I don't understand is why the district can't find someone already on payroll to plan "personal curriculum, student services guide and 2/15/10 professional staff development." That seems pretty basic in a school system full of principals and teachers, right? In the PDF I saw Hayward Educational Consulting Group, LLC was contracted for $3,000 worth of curriculum work from 12/4/09 1/30/09. While I realize that $3,000 isn't a ton of money, I just don't see how the district has to hire some of these contracts out. It seems to me that some of these contracts smell a little fishy.

Andrew Thomas

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 10:14 a.m.

Belboz is right. Although it sounds like a lot of money, this is pocket change in terms of the overall budget. I don't have a problem with contracting out a newsletter -- it's a lot of work, and I can tell you from personal experience with PTO newsletters and the like, they are very time-consuming. Seems like we're always scrambling to find someone who's willing to devote the time on a regular basis. Trying to pull something like this together on a district-wide basis is definitely a full-time job.

Kathy Griswold

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 10:09 a.m.

David Jesse, Great article, but we need a more comprehensive picture of consulting and contracted services. Are you planning another article on contracted services? Also consultants and contract services paid from the bond and sinking fund? It would be helpful to be able to reconcile the consultant and contracted services amounts back to the audited financial reports. For example, the 2008-09 audited financial report lists $200,800 for contracted services in Communication Services. What is the detail? You list $55,000 for a communications specialist/district editor in 2009-10, what other contracted services are in the communications budget for this year?


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:45 a.m.

On one statement, Roberts talks about bringing in different people, outside of the district for a fresh perspective. Yet, on the other hand, they are handing out contracts to former administrators. Sound hypocritical to me.

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:36 a.m.

Sorry belboz but every cut we make elsewhere, means less of a cut to our teachers, bus drivers, and maintenance workers. Wouldn't you rather see a California company take the cuts than your neighbors?

David Jesse

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:28 a.m.

@KJM Clark: the names are bolded so that search engines, like google, pick them up. I'll look for the overall marketing budget.

David Jesse

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:20 a.m.

@LisaStarfield: All the consultants, how much their contracts are for and what fund they come out, along with the administrator who signed off on it, are in the PDFs above. In PEG's case, their contract for this school year is about $94,000, slightly down from last year. The superintendent can approve contracts up to $100,000 without board approval.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:19 a.m.

First, is there some reason the names of most of the people in article are bolded? Bolding for links makes sense, and maybe organizations, but I can't think of another news source that does that with names. It seems like an odd style choice. Real question; how much does the AAPS spend on marketing each year? I would include the mentioned newsletter, the ads they put in the Observer, and any other "outreach" that isn't just informing parents of things happening at their kids' schools. Why does a public school district spend any money at all on marketing?

Lisa Starrfield

Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

I notice that they do not tell us how much money PEG gets every year from the district and there is no way to tell if any of the improvement in scores has come from them "helping to keep the focus on the issue" or if it is from the hard work of our staff.


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 9:04 a.m.

Based on your comment, nobody would be reading the paper.... Seriously - is this the path to resolving the Budget Issue - writing stories about the little expenses that don't even total up to 1/2 of 1 percent of the budget. The budget talks need to focus on the big items - teachers pay, staffing efficiency, and school closings. Everything else is just a distraction...


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 8:34 a.m.

I'd be happy to create a district online newspaper, write stories for it, and do it voluntarily. As a matter of fact, I could create a committee of volunteer parent journalist types to do this $55,000 job for free. All AAPS had to do was reach out and ask. But it's rare when they acknowledge the good work of parent volunteers. I've heard the excuses: "parents aren't familiar with our district policies" (this is Ann Arbor, trust me we know your policies) or "parents move on from the school system once their children graduate" (as if 12+ years isn't enough?). So many excuses for needing "paid consultants" in a town rich with intelligent, highly educated, caring, compassionate citizens all more than willing to share in the improvement of our school system. Just reach out and ask!


Sun, Feb 21, 2010 : 7 a.m.

If the school gets reimbursed about 80 percent for PT/OT speech etc, why did the school send out those forms to get Medicaid reimbursement for those services? Are they trying to get paid twice for the same thing?