INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Once again, Indian River County School District Superintendent Mark Rendell is choosing to work with distant “consultants” instead of the local NAACP on closing the academic achievement gap for black high school students.
The achievement gap is at the heart of a federal desegregation order that has hung over Indian River County schools for almost a half century.
The federal court order requires the district to work with and report to the NAACP on various matters, including how to close the achievement gap. But Rendell ignores it, making unilateral decisions about how to address inequity in the district and bypassing the NAACP and the School Board.
The way school district finances are set up, Rendell, as superintendent, has the power to hire consultants and award contracts for amounts less than $50,000.
Using that trump card, he hired a law firm, Husch Blackwell, supposedly to study what the district has done to comply with the order, stating that results of the study would be shared.
The law firm’s fees started at $36,000, which allowed Rendell to hire them without oversight, but the fees have since escalated to $150,000. And the district also has now labeled the study part of a legal strategy, enabling it to withhold it from the public on that basis.
Then Rendell again bypassed the School Board and hired Boston-based District Management Council at $50,000 a year for three years to address another of the desegregation order’s requirements – studying low-achieving elementary and middle school students, with black and special-education students broken out in the analyses.
The latest Rendell hiring is of Seattle-based Equal Opportunity Schools for $48,800. They have been retained to increase enrollment of low-income students of color in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, which it is claimed will address the black-student achievement gap and the graduation rate at the high school level. The company will charge an additional $12,500 for travel fees, which went unquestioned by the School Board even though the combined expenditure on the contract will exceed $50,000.
“We were not consulted,” said Jacqueline Warrior, who heads the NAACP education committee. “This is another top-down-driven solution. And they claim they will close the gap in a year. What are they going to do? Wave a magic wand? Our fear is they will lower standards and it will look good on paper, but nothing is really happening.”