The Jackson Public Schools school board spent more than 90 minutes Tuesday interrogating an education consulting group to determine if they produced results worth the more than $326,000 the district has spent on them so far.
In its second meeting since its six members were confirmed, the Board of Trustees used Tuesday night to discuss the tight timeline the district has to submit a corrective action plan. Members repeatedly stressed they want assurance that they can count on the consultant the district is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for.
Since April, the Bailey Education Group has worked with the district to navigate the way through an audit process. The district must submit a corrective action plan to the Mississippi Department of Education by Jan. 16, 2018 in response to an 18-month investigative audit which found Jackson Public Schools in violation of 75 percent of state accreditation standards. That plan will be presented to the State Board of Education for approval on Feb. 15, 2018.
During the meeting, Bailey consultants provided the board members with a list of recommendations for success, which include suggestions on providing more support for the licensed teachers and long-term substitutes, requesting more reading interventionists from the state, and using data to determine which grades and subjects needed more intense support.
Consultant Ann Moore told the board the group is “working feverishly” on a tight deadline – the school board will be presented with a corrective action plan for approval at its Dec. 19 meeting before it is submitted to the state.
When the board members asked direct questions, Bailey consultants frequently deferred to executive director of school improvement William Merritt.
Board member Ed Sivak repeatedly asked the group if they were confident that the state would approve the plan. Merritt and Interim Superintendent Freddrick Murray both said they were confident, but Moore hedged at first, acknowledging that MDE may have some revisions or suggestions due to the number of standards before finally telling the board “I believe so, yes. But it’s a process.”
Bailey Education Group president Gary Bailey told the board he felt “very strongly” that the plan would be approved, but there was no guarantee because implementing the accreditation standards correctly is the responsibility of the school district.
“Somebody’s got to implement that, you’re not paying us to implement that CAP plan…we’re helping you do that as an advisory contractor and we feel very strongly that you’re going to get there and it’s going to be approved,” Bailey said. “If you ask me to guarantee is that CAP going to be approved, there’s no way on earth I can do that because you have to implement that.”
In April, the previous school board approved a $95,900 contract with Bailey Education Group to help the district with its corrective action plan. That contract was extended from July to the end of August at no additional cost. On Sept. 19, the same board approved a separate $145,000 contract with the Bailey Group for 100 days of support for teachers and instructional leader at select middle schools.
At the Nov. 28 meeting, the current school board approved an amendment to pay the group $29,000 for an additional 20 days of work surrounding the corrective action plan between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28.
District chief financial officer Sharolyn Miller told board members that group has received roughly $326,400 from the district so far.
On Tuesday, board chair Jeanne Hairston said she was “concerned about the lack of accountability and assessment around the services that they do deliver in our schools and classrooms” because she had no data to support it.
“It’s very difficult to shell out this kind of money with no data, that’s my concern,” Hairston said.
Bailey told the board repeatedly “We’re not walking away from you.”
Although the group was originally contracted for an additional 20 days of work, the board amended the contract Tuesday to require Bailey Education Group to continue working with the district at no additional cost if more assistance is needed before the corrective action plan is approved.
In both meetings held since the new school board was confirmed, members scrutinized nearly every item on the agenda, from the broad question of how to measure Bailey’s effectiveness to the long-term value of using artificial turf. The board voted to table a potential contract with lobbying firm Octagon Group LLC because they did not have enough information on how the contract was procured, members said.