Clarke County School Superintendent Demond Means, who came to Athens from the suburban Milwaukee district of Mequon-Thiensville, has hired a number of businesses in Wisconsin to provide services for CCSD, according to open records obtained by Flagpole. Some were no-bid contracts, and many were under the $80,000 threshold requiring school board approval.
A Milwaukee public relations firm, The Donovan Group, was paid $63,184 in monthly increments over the past two years, as well as an additional $18,000, for “crisis management.” The Weaponry, another Milwaukee firm, earned $12,000 in public money for a new logo design.
Documents show Susan Northey and her Wisconsin firm Branding Breakthrough received $26,750 for consulting with and then branding the school district. The Studer Group, which offers “evidence-based leadership,” according to its website, earned $99,064 in public money from the district. This firm, too, is in Wisconsin.
Another Wisconsin company, Smart Learning Systems, which works with clients to “build a legacy of student-centered, goal-directed learning,” received $321,000 from CCSD.
CCSD paid the University of Wisconsin $15,000 to do school enrollment projections. Anna Silberg of Mequon was hired by principal Marsha Thomas at Coile Middle School to teach mindfulness training, facilitate training workshops, work with parents, provide coaching sessions and lead a retreat for “Mindfulness Champions” at Coile. Silberg received $24,725 in advance for her services and has a retainer of $24,725. The contract was not put out for bid.
Not all the contracts were given to Wisconsin firms. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) has been paid $407,000 this year to train teachers, after being paid $511,000 last year.
In fiscal year 2018–19, the school district spent $121,750 on Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measure of Academic Progress (MAP), a standardized test. In FY 2019–20, the district will spend $113,400 on MAP testing.
Public records show Means signed a contract with a company whose services focus on displaying and manipulating testing data. Qualtrics provided a “research and insights platform,” costing $55,000 for the first year and $65,000 for the second. Records provided by the district’s contracts and grants department indicate there was no request for proposals for this service.
Mindsteps, whose website says it will “turn your school into a success story,” has provided $25,143 worth of training to CCSD teachers. TregoED, which offers “better schools with better teaching,” has earned $31,404 from CCSD. Insight Education Group received $76,250 for its work on the CCSD strategic plan, according to documents.
In April, Vanderbilt University professor Richard Milner spent 30 hours in Athens, focusing on three elementary schools—Chase, Barrow and Timothy—and earned $20,000, according to public records. He returned in May for another 17 hours and took home $16,000. Milner received $8,000 for speaking at the 2018 school year “kick-off,” held in the Classic Center, which CCSD rented for $35,045. All in all, CCSD has paid Milner $60,055.
According to his contract, former Fulton County and Palm Beach superintendent and Broad Academy alumnus Robert Avossa—whom Means hired to help him get into the training program run by billionaire charter school advocate Eli Broad—earned $15,000 for 10 days of work, plus up to $4,000 for travel. Avossa’s former boss in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district, Peter Gorman, another Broad Academy graduate, has visited Athens at least twice and spoken to administrators, at a total cost of $4,700.
Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates is the executive search firm that brought Means to Athens. Under the Means administration, the school district has paid ECRA, the parent company of Hazard Young, $132,837 to cover consultation fees, executive training, professional development and an annual subscription.
The University of Virginia, hired by Means to turn around Gaines Elementary, which landed on a state list of “failing schools,” has received $236,800 over the past two years. The money has paid for “district readiness,” “core partnership,” “cohort 16 summer sessions June,” “cohort 16 summer sessions” and a purchase order.
A contract Means signed with District Leadership Forum obligates the school district to pay $24,500 each year from 2019–2022, with a 5% increase after the first year, and an additional $1,500 annually to offset travel and administrative expenses, public records say. The forum “provides district leaders and their staff innovative solutions to their biggest strategic and management challenges.”
Another $45,000 was paid for the first year to Fulcrum Management Solutions for its Thought Exchange, a survey instrument that “helps leaders crowdsource answers to questions in real time,” according to the company website. Records show there was no RFP for this service, listing it as “sole provider.”
And there’s $10,000 Means obligated to ClearGov.com, whose website explains, “ClearGov provides a full suite of turnkey solutions to help local officials drive transparency, streamline budgeting and better engage residents.”
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