Consultants run amok

Being a Clark County School District administrator means never having to say goodbye -- not when the district throws around millions of dollars every month on consultant contracts.

At its Thursday meeting, the Clark County School Board approved a contract worth as much as $40,000 for retired administrator Karlene McCormick-Lee, who used to supervise the district's empowerment schools. She is being contracted to -- you guessed it -- assist in the administration of empowerment schools which, ironically, are supposed to be more independent than traditional campuses. What could make a school more autonomous than having an administrator retire and not be replaced?

According to Superintendent Walt Rulffes, Ms. McCormick-Lee's daily pay rate is equal to the cost of her former salary and benefits. It's quite a gesture considering Ms. McCormick-Lee, a 30-year employee, also gets to collect her pension on top of her consulting contract.

The contract, which was proposed and approved without a competitive bidding process, comes after the Legislative Counsel Bureau reported that the school district spent more than $14 million on consultants and speakers between June and October alone. In total, the district awarded more than 600 contracts during the five months, covering everything from administrative advice to instructional services.

We'd love to hear Clark County School Board trustees account for the fact that they never seem to have enough money for kids -- the district has made about $120 million in program cuts this year, and might have to make more depending on how Gov. Jim Gibbons deals with continuing state revenue shortfalls -- but they can always find enough dough to sweeten the retirement of former employees. Is there a secret couch cushion in the administrative palace on Sahara Avenue stuffed with Benjamin Franklins?

It's not just the district's extra effort to grease the palms of ex-colleagues, nor the dollar amount in fiscally challenging times that make these deals so unsavory. It's the fact that the school district has no meaningful measures in place to determine whether any of these contracts make the slightest difference in improving the education of the valley's children.

Does anyone really believe that if the Clark County School District stopped awarding these contracts for one year and simply asked its small army of administrators and its very best teachers to do the same work that test scores would drop the slightest bit? With all the master's and doctoral degrees in that bureaucracy, doesn't anyone know how to do his job without getting expensive outside advice?

The Clark County School Board needs to get a grip on consulting costs -- and stop giving ex-administrators retirement bonuses.