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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Nashua School Board blasts $15.5k plan to hire charter school consultant

NASHUA – Several Board of Education members blasted a proposal by administrators to spend $15,525 to hire a consulting firm to help with the development of a district-sponsored charter school.

The board tabled the proposal at Monday night’s meeting, after some members questioned the need to hire a company called 2Revolutions, a New York-based firm that specializes in the development of innovative approaches in education.

Board member Sandra Ziehm said she doesn’t look back favorably on the consultants the district has hired in her tenure, as far as what the expenses have yielded in the way of tangible results.

“I do not look back over our history and see where any of them have been especially essential or valuable,” she said. “In fact, sometimes I think they’re totally disregarded.”

Last week, members of the Board of Education’s finance committee reviewed a contract and gave a favorable recommendation to the full board. However, it was felt by the majority of the board that a decision on the contract should wait until more is known about where the proposed charter school is headed.

“This contract seems to presuppose we’re moving forward with the charter school, which I don’t believe we’ve made a firm decision on,” he said.

The three-month contract would be effective Jan. 2 through March 30 and would cost $15,525.

Superintendent Mark Conrad, who has been championing the idea for a charter school in the city, said as the district narrows its focus on the specific mission of the school, the firm would help to cultivate the idea and provide resources to staff putting together the charter.

On its Web site, the firm touts its “talent cloud,” which is a “pool of professionals with essential knowledge, skills and experience.” Conrad said the district would have access to that, as well as a database of successful approaches being implemented at other schools.

“Part of what they can do is help in identifying other schools where we could look toward their practices and speak to those folks and see how they’re being successful,” Conrad said.

The firm also is working with the Boston public school system and the Vermont Department of Education, according to its Web site.

Board member Kim Muise said the firm seems to be a luxury, not an essential.

“Unless there is something specific this group can give us that can’t be found without paying a consulting fee, I’m reluctant to approve it,” she said.

Nashua High School South teacher Judy Loftus told the board she was concerned about the hiring of the firm when the district has had to make cuts in other programs over the past several years.

“I’m puzzled about the district spending money to hire this firm,” Loftus said. “That could be used for a lot of things.”

Conrad agreed it made sense for a vote on the contract to be delayed until a 20-person committee working on the charter school proposal reports back to the Board of Education in January.

Earlier this year, the Board of Education gave the go-ahead for the development of a committee to come up with a charter school proposal. The committee is made up of administrators, teachers and other district staff. The board will have to approve the charter for the school to be created. It would then be overseen by an independent Board of Trustees. The earliest it could open would be the fall of 2013.

Conrad has given a broad idea of what he wants the charter school to be: a school where teachers can be free to implement new education methods, with the idea that those approaches that are effective would be used to benefit students across the district.

Specifics such as where the school would be located, what grades it would serve and how many students would attend have yet to be ironed out.

Nashua is the first large school district in the state to pursue the sponsorship of a charter school. The district would be in line for a $500,000 grant from the state to help with start-up costs, if the school is approved.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.