Long-term consultant's contract questioned by School Board members

Superintendent Dwight Jones became visibly defensive Wednesday with Clark County School Board members who questioned his consultant and special assistant, Ken Turner, whom Jones is asking to rehire for a third year at $250,000.

"I should be the one who holds him accountable," said Jones, who defended Turner to board members.

While board members praised Turner's work, they questioned such a long contract, the consultant's use of district offices and staff, and allegations that Turner stepped over the line of his authority.

Five board members were ready to sign on the dotted line, but board members Linda Young and Chris Garvey wanted to review the contract extension and asked for a decision to be postponed.

The district refused to release the contract extension to media Wednesday, but records show Turner's current $250,000 contract, approved in 2012, includes a $50,000 "relocation" payment. That is odd because Turner already had been working in the district for a year.

On top of that, Turner was given a $50,000 relocation payment - called a mobilization fee in the original contract - when he came to the district two years ago from Colorado at the request of his former boss, Jones.

Before becoming superintendent in 2010, Jones was Colorado's education commissioner, and Turner was his deputy commissioner of three years. At this time, the district is Turner's only employer.

It's unclear whether Turner will be given a third $50,000 relocation payment because the district won't release the proposed contract extension. But his contract payment would remain exactly the same at $250,000 a year if he is rehired at a Feb. 14 public meeting.

If not, Turner said he's not worried.

"I'm employable," he said.

At $250,000 a year, Turner is the second-highest paid executive in the district although he is not a staff member. His salary has been paid through the Lincy Foundation up to now. If retained, Turner will be paid through the Windsong Trust, providing what Jones called "a level of knowledge and skills" that he does not have in the Clark County School District but "needs."

Jones "needs fellow experts to come in and help with this massive undertaking" of improving academic achievement, district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said.

"You would not hire a brain surgeon based on who is cheap and easily accessible," she said.

Turner said Wednesday that the original intention was for a contract of one or two years but argued there is still work to be done with the school accountability systems he has been charged with creating. Those are the growth model and school star-rating system, which he and Jones built while in Colorado and then used here.

But Turner has been the source of some internal conflict, according to Stephen Augspurger, executive director of the Clark County Association of School Administrators and Professional-technical Employees.

Testifying on behalf of principals who feared speaking out against the superintendent's right-hand man, Augspurger recently told the School Board that Turner threatened to fire school principals who released certain test scores to the media or public.

"No employee should be bullied, harassed, intimidated or threatened by another employee or -for sure - by a consultant," Augspurger said.

When asked about the allegation in an interview after Wednesday's meeting, Turner said, "I'm not going to comment on that."

"There needs to be a clear line of distinction, that this is not a person who has power over employees," Garvey said.

The same board members also expressed concern Wednesday with Turner being given an office in the superintendent's office and using a district secretary when consultants are hired to perform a task with their own resources.

Fulkerson said the secretary who works for Turner is "not limited to assisting Turner" and is paid a salary of $65,200.

"He doesn't supervise anyone," Jones asserted. "He reports directly to the superintendent."

Jones wouldn't say Wednesday when Turner no longer would be needed. He said that will be assessed on a year-to-year basis and depends on the availability of third-party funding because the district can't afford the expense now.

"Let's be frank," Fulkerson said. "A generation of kids has been failed by this district. Mr. Jones cannot do this alone."

Young, however, questioned Turner's lengthy tenure. A consultant is paid to provide the district with the means and training to move forward, not make it dependent on that consultant, she asked.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@review journal.com or 702-383-0279.