Former Omaha Public Schools interim Superintendent Virginia Moon may land a $1,000-a-day job consulting for the Learning Community.
The job could pay Moon and another consultant, a pediatrician, up to $72,000 each for 72 days of work.
Tonight, members of the Learning Community Council will vote on a proposal to hire Moon to work with superintendents in 11 metro-Omaha school districts to develop a plan for expanding early childhood education.
The council will also consider hiring Omaha pediatrician Laura Jana, at the same pay rate, to assist with the plan.
Critics are questioning the cost and need for the consultants, but Learning Community leaders defend the proposed spending.
Chris Proulx, president of the Omaha Education Association, said school districts have enough expertise to craft the plan without consultants.
“Gosh, I can go give you 15 teachers who will do it just for pizza,” Proulx said. “We'll put together a plan that will be as good as one or two consultants can come up with, probably even better.”
Proulx said he supports early childhood programs, but it appears from this proposal “what we're doing is looking to put more money into the pockets of adults and not in the form of resources to support kids.”
Ted Stilwill, chief executive officer of the Learning Community, said the pay is reasonable given the complex task and the experience and expertise of Moon and Jana.
The plan will lay out how to spend between $2 million and $3 million a year to serve children in parts of metro Omaha with high concentrations of poverty.
Moon is an experienced leader, and the planning will require the right touch to bring about collaboration between districts that still are not entirely cooperative under the 4½-year-old education entity, Stilwill said.
“She has a relationship, quite frankly, with the superintendents, and she has credibility, good background knowledge as well,” he said. “So she's kind of an ideal facilitator for this.”
Stilwill said Moon isn't likely to work all 72 days in the contract term — July 1, 2013, to July 31, 2014 — potentially a $72,000 expenditure. Even so, Stilwill said, the pay rate is not out of line.
“I understand that, that would seem a lot when you put together a daily rate, but for consulting work in education, with her background and experience, that's not a particularly high rate,” he said.
He said Jana's pay would be a bargain given her credentials, experience and understanding of child development.
Jana is an author and owner of the Primrose School of Legacy child care center in Omaha. She served as a consultant to noted pediatrician Benjamin Spock and co-founded The Dr. Spock Company — one of the first online health sites. She is media spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and national news media frequently quote her on parenting issues. She also is a blogger for The World-Herald's health website, Livewellnebraska.com.
“She could probably command quite a bit more than that, but just for convenience's sake, we set it at the same level,” Stilwill said.
Jana said she believes the pay is close to the median of what similar consultants receive.
She said having Moon's insight and expertise, including her knowledge of area school systems and her relationship with the superintendents, is invaluable.
As for herself, Jana said, she already is heavily involved with early childhood issues nationally and has wanted an opportunity to get more involved in Omaha. “They're going to get a whole lot more time than they've allotted,” she said.
Moon said she's eager to help devise a solution to help raise achievement for children in poverty.
“It will certainly take me less time to get up to speed, because I know the community and the early-childhood conversation and the players,” she said.
She said Learning Community officials researched consultant wages to determine the pay rate, which she said is reasonable.
During her year as interim OPS superintendent, Moon was paid a base salary of $275,000 a year plus benefits. She is not, however, receiving any retirement benefits through the OPS retirement system.
She is eligible for at least $6,000 a month in retirement benefits through the Nebraska school retirement system for her years of service in other Nebraska school districts.
Moon previously served two years as interim superintendent in the Broken Bow public schools, where she earned an average of $118,500 a year.
Before that, she spent 11 years as superintendent of the Ralston Public Schools.
During her last three years at Ralston, Moon was paid a base salary of $150,222.
She previously worked in Papillion-La Vista and smaller districts.
Lorraine Chang, chairwoman of the Learning Community Council, said the consulting proposal is a response to lawmakers expanding the mission of the education cooperative.
Lawmakers last session gave the council explicit authority to fund early-childhood education programs for poor children.
Lawmakers further directed the superintendents of the 11 member districts to submit a plan to the council for implementing and administering such programs.
Jana and Moon would fill “very specific roles that are going to be moving us forward toward getting this early childhood plan in place as quickly as possible,” Chang said.
The consultants would only get the full daily rate if they worked the whole day, she said.
They would be reimbursed for local mileage. Jana would receive a travel budget of $10,000 “to meet with various national organizations or attend conferences or events that are of direct interest to the Learning Community,” the proposed contract says.
Neither woman would receive any fringe benefits from the Learning Community.
Mike Pate, a Millard School Board member who serves on the council, said hiring consultants is “ridiculous.”
Pate said lawmakers assigned responsibility for drawing up the plan to superintendents, not consultants.
“In this particular case, Ted and Lorraine and whoever else have decided to take the initiative to hire these consultants without the input and a formal recommendation from the superintendents advisory committee,” he said.
Superintendents on the advisory committee have not met to discuss the proposal, he said.
Gretna Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Riley, liaison for the superintendents committee, said superintendents have talked informally about the plan and favor having Moon facilitate the project.
Riley said the project would require too much time for the superintendents to do the job right. They will be busy with the start of school, he said.
He said they were not involved in setting the pay rate.
World-Herald staff writer Julie Anderson contributed to this report.