The Richmond County Board of Education will purchase a leadership assessment tool from polling firm Gallup Inc. to help identify the best candidates for teaching and administrative positions.
For $78,000 per year, the online assessment presents candidates with questions to measure their strengths and ability to have an impact on students.
With millions of dollars in state funding cuts and district staff working to balance the 2013-14 budget, there was disagreement among board members Tuesday as to whether now was the time to make such a purchase. The purchase passed 6-3 with members Barbara Pulliam, Venus Cain and Jack Padgett in dissent and Alex Howard absent.
Pulliam said with the school system unable to pay for enough paraprofessionals, transportation for alternative program students and the restoration of furlough days, this tool should be the last on the list.
“Everything is ‘no money,’ ” Pulliam said. “We couldn’t replace a director of high schools, they said no money. Student services, no money … we need to prioritize. I don’t think this should be at the top … because we don’t have no money.”
In a committee meeting last week, board members asked staff to research whether Title II grants, federal funding to improve teacher quality, could cover the costs. According to Controller Gene Spires, that arrangement has not worked out and the $78,000 will have to come from the district’s general fund.
Board member Frank Dolan said the program is worth the price because bad teachers and bad principals cost the system more in money and achievement.
He also said there is a problem with cronyism in the hiring practices, with people landing jobs based on who they know or are related to. Gallup’s program scores candidates based on timed assessments, which Dolan said would create an objective list of candidates.
“Let’s get the best quality teachers,” Dolan said. “Look at the grades. How much does a year of bad grades cost? If you can save a bad hire and put a good hire in and get people that are qualified from the start, I think that would be well worth the amount of money we’re talking about.”
Gallup Senior Consultant Kelly Peaks Horner said her team will soon work to train the Richmond County schools human resources department and principals in the assessment program and could begin testing candidates by the fall.
Gwinnett, Muscogee, Dekalb, Atlanta Public Schools, Decatur and Henry school districts use the assessment. Horner said the appeal comes from research showing if a student has an ineffective teacher for one year, it takes three years to make up for the deficit. If a student experiences three ineffective teachers in a row, the deficit is never recovered.
Horner said the Gallup tool correlates candidates’ scores to those who identified as the most effective teachers in a controlled group, taking any favoritism or guessing out of the process.
“(The assessment) will determine who within the applicant pool has the greatest potential of delivering high student achievement outcomes,” she said.