July 24, 2024

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Conway superintendent runs outside education consultant business

Conway School District Superintendent Jeff Collum runs his own education consultant business and is allowed to do limited work for it during the school day even when he’s on the public payroll, the Arkansas Times has learned.

The website for Collum’s business, Triad Consultants, indicates the district’s deputy superintendent, Jason Black, also works for the business as a consultant. Triad advises schools on a range of topics from safety and security to training and curriculum and instruction strategies. Triad specifically promotes its knowledge of “board relations” and the “Team of 8 Training Model,” a reference to a school-board training workshop.

Collum has been the superintendent in Conway since July 2021.

A long-overlooked section of Collum’s contract, most recently approved by the school board on Jan. 9, states:

Superintendent acknowledges and agrees that the obligations and duties set forth in this contract are his primary duties and responsibilities. However, the Superintendent has the right to undertake consulting work, speaking engagements, writing, teaching a college or university course, lecturing, or other professional duties and obligations. Provided, however, that this other work shall not interfere in a material and substantial manner with the Superintendent’s obligations set forth above.

So, unlike teachers and most other employees, Collum can oversee his own private business during the school day when he’s being paid an annual salary of $241,285, a $1,000 monthly car allowance and an annual $15,000 stipend by the district.

Who decides when and if Collum’s work for Triad Consultants interferes “in a material and substantial manner” with his school duties? The school board oversees the superintendent, but the board unanimously approved his contract and rarely, if ever, publicly raises questions about district financial decisions.

In an email sent through the school district’s attorney, Shastady Wagner, at the end of the business day last Friday, March 15, Collum said, “Any consulting work is done either outside of school time or scheduled at a time that least conflicts with any superintendent duties for the district. I typically do training related to leadership and school safety for state cooperatives and multiple districts and personnel related to safety.”

Triad’s website lists the Conway School District as one of its clients over the past 15 years. It is not clear if the district is still a client, even if unpaid.

“The work I do as a consultant benefits the district at no expense and helps me serve other districts and improve their school safety and leadership development opportunities, as well as day to day operational efforts,” Collum said in the email. “It also helps me improve my knowledge and exposure to state, local and national trends related to these topics.”

Collum did not say how his consultant work “benefits the district at no expense,” but the statement raises further questions. Is he advising himself and other school leaders but not charging the Conway School District — beyond his generous salary, that is — for that advice? If so, might he and the district actually benefit from having a more objective consultant who is not a district administrator?

The school district has been closed this week for spring break, and officials have been unavailable for followup comment.

Other Arkansas school districts and charter schools listed as Triad’s clients during a 15-year period include those in Arkadelphia, Stuttgart, Little Rock, Jonesboro, Siloam Springs, Benton, Bentonville, LISA Academy in Little Rock, Batesville, Rogers, Fayetteville and Sheridan. Some districts in Texas, where Collum formerly lived, also are listed.

As for Black, his annual salary as deputy superintendent is $126,270 plus $600 a month for in-district travel expenses, according to his contract.

Black’s contract does not address outside employment, but in an email response sent by Wagner, Black said, “Any consulting work is done either outside of school time or scheduled at a time that minimally conflicts with any deputy superintendent duties for the district.”

Black said he “typically” conducts “training related to leadership and school safety for state cooperatives and multiple districts and personnel.”

Black also has established a corporation — JB6 Consulting LLC. According to the Arkansas secretary of state’s website, he filed the paperwork for that business on Dec. 2. JB6’s relationship with Triad, if any, is not clear.

Black said that as a district employee, he has not entered into any consulting contract with the Conway School District.

Audie Alumbaugh, a Conway-based parent advocate who closely follows education issues in Arkansas, recently posted a link on Facebook to Triad’s website.

“This looks like a Conway school ad … but it’s not,” she wrote. “It’s a side hustle for a superintendent who makes more than any superintendent of Conway ever has. … That noise you hear is the milking of the public.”

Collum previously was a superintendent in Hallsville, Texas, and in Benton.

Collum’s consulting business sparked complaints in the past, but then its website either disappeared or became harder to find, and the criticism died down. Complaints resurfaced recently after locals began noticing a new Triad website.

According to the website OpenCorporates, a business called Triad Educational Systems & Consultants Inc. with a registered address in Conway was reinstated Jan. 2 of this year after a tax forfeiture in February 2020. According to the website, Triad is a domestic, for-profit corporation that was formed in September 2006 and its agent, Carol A. Miller, is based in Jefferson, Texas.

In the email to the Arkansas Times, Collum insisted that his job as Conway superintendent is his “number one priority.”

“Any consulting work is done at times that would least conflict with any of my superintendent duties as outlined in my contract,” he said.