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Ruth: Hillsborough school chief, board take cover behind consultants

Consider this a warning that in about another paragraph or so you will be slapping your forehead as you sadly ruminate no matter what you do, you picked the wrong line of work.

Days ago the Hillsborough County School Board voted to approve a $818,000 contract with the Gibson Consulting Group to help improve — ahem — efficiency. You can't say you didn't get a heads up.

Or put another way, as one of the larger school districts in the country, the Hillsborough County School system employs thousands and thousands of professional educators. And then there are legions of professional paper-pushing bureaucrats who spend their days rubbing their chins in the pursuit of improving the educational lot of our little dickens.

And let us not forget superintendent Jeff Eakins, who has worked for the school district since 1989, most recently as deputy superintendent, currently makes $225,000 to oversee the entire organization. Yet, with all that classroom and executive experience, Eakins still needs to spend $818,000 in taxpayer money for a consultant to tell him what to do?

In approving the nearly $1 million consulting contract the School Board noted it really, really wasn't spending taxpayer money since the source of the funding for the deal would come from purchase card rebates. This, of course is sheer piffle. It's the Hillsborough County School District. It is a public agency. Ergo, any funds entering its coffers, whether by property taxes, or some other financial stream is still public money. Your money.

Indeed Eakins already figured out a way to save $10 million by moving away from the district's peer evaluator system of measuring teacher performance. Instead the peer evaluators would be reassigned to other jobs as teachers themselves or perhaps a combination of educator/teaching coach.

Well, that seems reasonably … efficient.

No doubt the Gibson Consulting Group are some crackerjack consultants. Or at least they better be for $818,000. We ought to certainly expect some darn fine consulting to go on here as the Gibson consultants, consultant away the midnight oil.

It's merely a cynical guess, but one has the sneaking suspicion once all this consulting gets properly consulted, the end result will hardly see a reformation in how the kiddos perform in class and/or how well the teachers do their jobs.

That's largely because after almost 27 years as a creature of the Hillsborough County School District, Jeff Eakins understands that the real purpose of consultants, aside from telling you what you already know, is to provide political cover when things go wrong.

"How was I to know Policy X was dumber than a sack of lug nuts? The consultants assured me everything would be fine. I'm merely a poor $225,000-a-year bureaucrat. What do I know? It's the consultants! They're the ones you want!"

And let's face it, for $818,000 just about any of us would be more than happy to make a living as a professional fall guy.

If government entities such as a school board, or even a superintendent, are going to essentially abdicate the decisionmaking responsibilities for which they were hired and appointed to in the first place to third party, why do we need a school board and/or a superintendent in the first place?

Really now, within the catacombs of the Hillsborough County School District there are all manner of apparatchiks responsible for curriculum, teacher training, teacher evaluations, school discipline, textbooks and on and on and on. And none of their labors are good enough? Eakins still needs a consultant to help him perform his duties?

Or is the school administration merely a massive master class on how to eventually become a consultant? It's very rewarding work, you know.

Ruth: Hillsborough school chief, board take cover behind consultants 12/31/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 31, 2015 10:14am]
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