NIAGARA FALLS – A member of the Niagara Falls Board of Education complained last week about the cost of a consulting firm hired to monitor the success of two state-funded grant programs, but he drew no support from his colleagues.
Ronald J. Barstys’ effort to question the costs of using the Via Evaluation firm of Buffalo for grant monitoring failed, as the deals were approved by a 7-1 vote at Thursday’s session.
Via Evaluation is to be paid $48,000 for the coming school year to report on the results of state grants the district received to improve mathematics instruction in kindergarten through sixth grade at four target schools, and to enhance college and career readiness among high school students.
The math grant is $796,000 over two years, while the high school grant is $500,000 over three years.
Deputy Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie said the high school effort may “move the needle on our graduation rate,” which as of 2012 was 79 percent.
The plan will include a dedicated full-time counselor, efforts to improve mental health and reduce drug abuse, and a push to enhance parental involvement.
Subcontractors paid with the grant money this year will include Northpointe Council for antidrug efforts, $8,000; Living Wellness of Niagara for mental health services, $10,000; and Every Person Influences Children for parental-involvement services, $28,635.
Under the math teaching grant, Metamorphosis, a firm founded by noted educator Lucy West, will be paid $40,000 to $50,000 of the grant money for professional development of Falls math teachers. Also hired for teaching coaching and professional development were Pearson Learning, $21,000; Wilson Language, $10,000; and JP Associates, $9,000.
Barstys said that the work of Via Evaluation will have no impact on children and speculated that when the ensuing years of the grants are added in, the Buffalo firm will receive about $100,000. “That’s an outrageous amount of money for what he’s going to do,” Barstys complained. “For $100,000 over three years, you could get another psychologist. Does no one else care? I’ll vote ‘no,’ and we can move on.”
Laurrie said the names of Via Evaluation and its president, Gary Ciurczak, were included in the district’s grant applications to the state Education Department.
“When we put this gentleman’s name in there, we get better results,” Laurrie said.
“Mr. Laurrie is very kind, but I don’t think Via Evaluation has much weight,” Ciurczak said when interviewed Friday. “Niagara Falls has a very good reputation for grants and doing what they say they’re going to do.”
His firm’s job is to prove it through interviews, data analysis and on-site visits, preparing reports to the administration and the state. Ciurczak, who has been working with Niagara Falls since about 2000, said evaluators tend to collect about 10 percent of the grant.
Barstys said the task should have been bid rather than just handed to Via, but Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said evaluation is a professional service that doesn’t have to be bid. School district attorney Angelo Massaro said that it could have been bid, however.
At the end of the meeting, the board voted, 6-2, to table a four-year, $50,000 contract with Bonadio & Co. of Amherst for internal auditing services. Barstys noted that the contract was subject to bidding, while the grant evaluations were not.