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Clark County School Board to vote on adviser pacts

To gain an outside perspective on the Clark County School District, new Superintendent Dwight Jones seeks to use $375,000 in private funds to hire consultants he has worked with before.

Ken Turner, who would get $250,000 for a yearlong contract as the superintendent’s adviser, was Jones’ deputy when Jones was the Colorado commissioner of education.

Larry Vaughn and Doris Fassino, co-founders of Quality Leadership Resources, worked with Jones in the 1990s when he was an elementary school principal and assistant superintendent in Wichita, Kan. Vaughn said they specialize in helping underfunded school districts produce better academic results. They would be paid $80,000.

Jones also wants to hire Frederick M. Hess, an education reformer and Education Week blogger who has written several books, including "Tough Love for Schools," which advocates closing "poor schools and firing lousy teachers."

Jones said Hess, who would be paid $25,000, would be a "disruptive force."

"That’s just right for a system that gets too comfortable with itself," said Jones, who included himself in the need for criticism. "I would like somebody to push back against me."

The Clark County School Board will consider approving the consultant contracts at a meeting tonight . Also up for consideration is a $20,000 award for Vista Communications of Denver to develop a long-term marketing plan.

Because of an anticipated funding shortfall of $250 million for the 2011-12 school year, Jones did not want to spend operating funds on outside consultants. So he got permission from the Lincy Foundation to reallocate $400,000 remaining from a $13.5 million gift given in 2008 for empowerment schools, which are granted more autonomy for innovation.

Jones, who took over the nation’s fifth-largest school district in December, estimates eventually spending $1 million in private funds on outside consultants to help redesign a system with high dropout rates and low test scores.

The superintendent said he is hiring consultants he’s familiar with to help him "hit the ground running." He hopes they will provide him with the data and savvy necessary for promoting change.

Jones said the district is doing many things right, but "there’s also a lot of stuff we’re doing that we should stop doing. Some of that may be sacred cows."

Ruben Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, which represents district teachers, said the new superintendent should not "depend solely on the outside community" for advice. "There needs to be collaboration (from employees within the district as well)," he said.

"Any kind of school reform that would impact the collective bargaining agreement would have to be negotiated with us," Murillo said.

As a voice of change, Hess, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, acknowledged in an e-mail that he is "not intimately familiar with the lay of the land in Clark County, (but) I will be eventually."

He described himself as a "play ’em where they lay type."

"I believe in facing up to hard decisions and in being willing to consider new, creative solutions, but I think district and school leaders have to operate in ways that make sense to their communities," said Hess, whose blog is called "Rick Hess Straight Up."

Vaughn, who promoted Jones "three or four times" when Vaughn was his superintendent in Wichita, said his firm is good at identifying the causes undermining instruction. Vaughn said efficiency is critical because Jones "doesn’t have money to waste."

Turner did not return a call for comment. In Colorado, Turner was credited implementing the state’s growth model for tracking student achievement, according to the Colorado Department of Education. He retired from the department in 2009.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-799-2922.

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