Springboro school consultant, selection process scrutinized

A Springboro resident and a school board member expressed concerns about the contractor selected by the Springboro Board of Education to lead the district’s strategic planning process, the price of his services and the process used to select him.

At last week's school board meeting, member Lisa Babb reiterated concerns about the cost of the work to be done by CF Educational Solutions, consultant Robert Sommers' Middletown-based current company. Babb also continued an objection to the absence of other potential consultants presented as candidates for the job before the decision.

The consultant is also working in schools in Dayton, Lebanon, Hamilton and Versailles, as well as other districts in Ohio and elsewhere.

Lynn Greenberg, a parent in the Springboro district, questioned the district hiring someone with charter-school experience to guide the public district’s strategic planning process.

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At the meeting, Superintendent Dan Schroer said Sommers’ several years of charter-school work represented a small percentage of 40-plus years in education.

“My research says a little more than that. Three failed charter schools in Indianapolis that sort of ruined Indianapolis Public schools,” said Greenberg, a parent who has spoken up in past as the district faced a variety of issues.

On Nov. 8, by a 4-1 vote, the board agreed to pay Sommers’ firm $32,900, including $8,500 for expenses, to facilitate the process for Springboro.

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While Babb voted ‘no’, the other four board members expressed support for Sommers’ company and Schroer’s choice after the vote, and expressed confidence the district would get its money’s worth.

In addition to years as a school superintendent and a stint with Butler Tech in Butler County, Sommers has served at the top of state government in Oklahoma and Ohio on education.

Board President Jamie Belanger said it was “somewhat short-sighted” to focus on the consultant’s time with Carpe Diem Indiana, three charter schools that eventually closed. Instead Belanger said they should focus more on Sommers’ years in public education and the overall importance of the strategic planning process to the district.

In response to Greenberg’s charges, Sommers said the Carpe Diem enrollment was about 1,000, a small fraction of the number of students in Indianapolis public schools, thus unlikely to have any significant effect.

“We were a very small fish in a very large pond,” he said.

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At Tuesday’s meeting and in an interview, Schroer cited his own experience, including past work together with Sommers at Butler Tech, and Sommers’ long record in public education, in explaining why he offered the board no options.

Schroer described Sommers as “the foremost expert on strategic planning in the state of Ohio.” He also said he never brought in another consultant because the board never asked for one.

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“They did not ask for a second or third proposal at that time,” Schroer said in an interview after the meeting. “This was someone I was very passionate about.”

He said other strategic planning consultants, such as the Ohio School Boards Association, wouldn’t provide the kind of services or work with the district over as long a period.

“I want a full, encompassing process that will help us for many years,” Schroer said.

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Greenberg and Babb didn’t return calls seeking more elaboration on the concerns they expressed.

Over the next year, the consultant is to facilitate the Springboro schools strategic planning process, including public participation.

In an interview Friday, Sommers said Dayton Public Schools is the biggest client of his current business with his son. Although he has worked in Arizona, as well as Indiana and Oklahoma, Sommers said family responsibilities brought him back to his native state, Ohio, while his son works from Georgia.

In 2016, Sommers told The Cleveland Plain Dealer he would sell his interest in Carpe Diem if selected as the state’s school superintendent. He was not selected.

On Friday, he said he broke ties with Carpe Diem after realizing the computer-based “model” underlying the charter schools’ operations would not succeed.

In addition to Springboro, Sommers said Lebanon, Hamilton, Versailles and Shawnee schools were clients, Sommers said.

He said Springboro residents should have no concerns about charter schools coming to town.

“It’s a great district,” he said.

Like Belanger, Sommers emphasized the school board would have the final say on steps forward after the strategic planning process.

“At the end the board will make the final decisions for the district,” Sommers said.

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