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Fishy consulting: A big contract for an insider

How much should taxpayers pay an Education Department administrator to see that teachers are held accountable for the achievement of their students? More than the average American lawyer is paid?

The Executive Council on Wednesday wisely tabled a proposal to hire a consultant for the Education Department to track teachers with their students' performance. The $117,000, one-year contract, for a 30-hour-a-week position amounts to about $75 an hour, councilors discovered.

Just as interesting as the pay rate was the fact that the person chosen for the job, former Somersworth school superintendent Karen Soule, was a department employee until April. April is the month the consultant's position was posted. Soule was the only applicant.

"There's something fishy here, and if not, then I'm concerned you guys are not doing a good job at getting these opportunities out to the general public before handing them to your own staff," Councilor Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, told Education Commissioner Virginia Barry.

Fishy is right. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for a lawyer in the United States is $62.93. The mean hourly wage for lawyers who work as corporate managers is $78.61, meaning Soule would earn more than your typical trial attorney and just a few dollars an hour less than your typical corporate manager who has a law degree.

Tabling that contract was a good move. Councilors should do some digging to find out why such a lucrative contract was offered and whether it makes more sense to hire a full-time staffer for the position.

Eric Church
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