Best use of taypayer money?

October 29, 2009 7:55:03 AM PDT
Parents are expressing shock at what Spring ISD is paying one consultant to train teachers, in a school district already shelling out big bucks for administrators. Just listen or look around. It's Vail, a mountain paradise. And in the heart of this picturesque Colorado village, lots of Texas tax money is being spent.

The guy in the Hawaiian shirt is Spence Rogers. Spring Independent School District pays him $4,000 a day to help teachers teach.

"Four thousand dollars a day," Spring ISD grandparent Guillermo Barboza said. "My God, that's a lot of money for one person."

"We have delegated contracting authority to the administration," School Board President Mel Smith said. "So I don't know what a lot of our vendors make."

At that price, Rogers must be an education guru. Spring administrator Ann Sandoval should know, she recommended him.

When I asked her why Spence Rogers is worth $4,000 a day, Sandoval said, "Mr. Dolcefino, you got to go through Public Information Office to submit your questions."

The suburban school district spent about $1 million with Rogers' company in the last 18 months, much of it for him personally.

"Wow," one parent said. "That's shocking. That's really shocking."

"What we've seen so far is he's been successful in our programs," Smith said.

On The Peak Web site, they sing Rogers' praises. Dr. Draper: "I believe in this and fully support it," and Ann Sandoval: "Peak Institutes are profoundly impacting our teachers and student achievement."

So we asked back in July for Spring's research to back the claim up, and there wasn't any. Sandoval now credits her testimonial to classroom observation and teacher feedback.

"We've just implemented the program, it's been a year," Smith said. "So it's a little early yet to see that kind of thing."

But now Spring's secondary boss claims it's helped the scores at two high schools. So we looked at Spence Rogers' most amazing educational success stories -- and there are some.

We found one of the biggest along the Yukon River, a small community of Athabascan Indians.

They are found in the town of Galena, Alaska, so remote there's no drinking water. You can't even drive here.

Peaks' website claims gains of 22 percent on test scores in one year. There's less than 200 kids in the native school.

Spring has 35,000 students.

"I'm obliged to ask you about your relationship with Spence Rogers and Peak Learn," I ask Sandoval during a meeting.

Before coming to Spring ISD, Sandoval resigned from Fort Bend. Unlike Spring, employees there have to disclose all potential conflicts in writing.

Look who is on Sandoval's list -- Spence Rogers.

"I have done some work with Spence Rogers and Peak Learning Systems in recent years past," the document said.

Sandoval's other quote, "I have not been contracted with them for two to three years."

This prompted our questions.

"I'm here, you're here. So were you a paid consultant," I ask. "If so, how much did you make?"

"Again, Mr. Dolcefino, I am going to have refer you to the Public Information Office, and they will be happy to answer all of your questions."

"If she's not making any money in my district -- which is what I'm concerned about -- then no, I don't see an issue," Smith said.

In an email, Spence Rogers told us, "I have not assisted any administrators at Spring ISD in obtaining any outside sources of income."

Both Rogers and Sandoval deny there was ever a financial relationship.

Just months after his very first visit to Spring, the lucrative consulting deals came for Rogers' company. And this summer, just weeks before Spence Rogers and his team came here for a summer institute, Spring ordered hundreds of employees to Vail, Colorado, to take another Peak course.

"This is not a bad place to be this time of year," one attendant's video said.

"Yeah," a teacher responded, "I'm really enjoying it."

"Yeah, I hear you," the attendant responded.

We were there too with hidden cameras.

And there was Spence Rogers.

The out-of-state travel cost to taxpayers -- $334,000 -- and this was state money. All of us paid for it.

The Colorado conference sure had great scenery, but couldn't the same lesson be provided here at a fraction of the price?

"We trust the superintendent to pick the best programs for our children," Smith said. "And he hasn't let us down yet."

Spring claims the Peak System has actually cut down on the cost of teacher training, but wouldn't tell us the money paid to consultants last year so you could compare. And there are new questions tonight about how Spring's school Superintendent Dr. Ralph Draper used travel money.

Our continuing investigation now focuses on a 2008 trip to a Palm Beach resort. Spring ISD travel records show Dr. Draper remained there after an educational conference was over, charging taxpayers for hotel, rent car and his expense account.

Draper has failed to respond to numerous requests for explanation. We've already reported taxpayers paid for a resort weekend for Draper and his wife this year.

The superintendent said he went to that conference a weekend early to avoid busy holiday air travel.

Spring ISD has stopped answering many of our questions, but don't worry. We won't stop asking them.

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