TAMPA — A South Carolina consultant who pioneered ladies' and gentlemen's clubs for low-income children is up for another set of contracts today with the Hillsborough County School Board.
The contracts call for five school training visits between Wednesday and Monday that will pay Stephen Peters a combined $17,500. He'll base the training on his book, Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me? and will provide curriculum guides.
School employees will then be able to set up clubs serving 50 children at each of the five schools. The general idea of the clubs is to provide children with character and etiquette lessons and broaden their horizons by taking them on excursions, all of which is supposed to result in more ambitious goals and better academic achievement.
Participating are Just and Tampa Bay Boulevard elementary schools; Stewart and Madison middle schools; and Jefferson High School.
Funding for Peters' visit comes from Title I, a federal program that enhances instruction at low-income schools. Hillsborough gets approximately $60-million of this money a year and uses a small portion to pay authors and consultants anywhere from $1,800 to $9,500. Peters is paid $3,500 per school.
Such contracts drew some criticism last fall, and the School Board held a workshop to discuss better ways to document their need and evaluate their work. A 27-member committee said it would return to the board in February with a plan that could be implemented in March.
Jose Colindres, a nonprofit foundation director who has questioned the contracting system, said he will ask questions about Peters. "He makes a pretty good chunk of change, and of course it's Title I," Colindres said.
Peters has a long-standing relationship with the school district. Five years ago there were ladies' and gentlemen's clubs at Just and in several other Hillsborough schools.
He said he looks forward to returning. The fee of $3,500 per school is a bargain, he said, as his usual speaking fee is $6,500.
Consider the expenses, he said: two round-trip flights so he can return home for the weekend, a moderately priced hotel and materials for the children, including neckties for boys, pendants for girls and journals for everyone.
"I understand that people should be accountable for what's being expended," he said, adding that school officials vetted him thoroughly. "We've never gone through this much scrutiny for $17,000."
One of six children born to parents who never finished college, Peters is married to a chemist and working on his own doctoral degree in educational administration.
"I know the power of education," he said. "That's all my parents talked about, education."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at tampabay.com or (813) 226-3356.