Friday, February 18, 2011
Brooks Doubles as Corporate Adviser
By Hailey Heinz
Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks spent most of this week in Denver, picking up an extra paycheck to advise companies that make educational products they sell to schools.
The trip was paid for by the Education Research and Development Institute, a company with a long corporate client list that facilitates such meetings.
Brooks has been a consulting superintendent for ERDI since before he came to Albuquerque and travels to its events twice a year. He is paid $500 for each panel he sits on — in this case, four panels in four days at the event held at Denver's Brown Palace Hotel and Spa.
Brooks has eight paid days for consulting built into his contract each year and ERDI pays for all his travel and hotel expenses.
He left Monday and is set to return today.
Brooks is paid for his services by ERDI, which in turn is paid by corporate clients. A client list on the ERDI website lists about 200 companies, including producers of computers, textbooks, online systems, school buses and soft drinks.
According to ERDI's website, it's mission is to "provide a forum for dialogue between outstanding educational leaders and committed corporate partners to shape products, goods, and services that will inspire excellence in education and enrich the achievement of all learners."
Brooks said he does not feel pressure to buy products just because he sits on a company's feedback panel.
"There is absolutely no obligation," Brooks said. "These vendors are buying time to get a private audience with five superintendents. They get three hours of our time, and it's all about the product."
Brooks said the travel benefits the district because it allows him to share ideas with other superintendents. He also said major players from the Broad Foundation, which awards grants and scholarships, are at these events.
"In some cases, it's all about relationships, and I think we have an opportunity here to build those kinds of relationships," he said Thursday.
Brooks said ERDI encourages superintendents to grant follow-up meetings with companies if they request them. Brooks said he doesn't always comply.
Brooks estimates he has been on 56 panels since he joined ERDI, and said there have been only two instances when he has contracted with or seriously considered contracting with the companies.
APS spokesman Rigo Chavez said even if Brooks returns from Denver enamored with a product, district policy would require that it go out for bid.
School Board President Martin Esquivel declined comment on Brooks' trip, saying it would be premature until he can talk to Brooks and learn more.
Denver is a hopping spot for educators this week. In addition to the ERDI event, the U.S. Department of Education is hosting a summit, where leaders from about 150 school districts are talking about improving relations between labor and management.
Although Brooks' time is devoted to the ERDI event, APS did send board member Lorenzo Garcia, Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein and APS employee relations director Karen Rudys to the labor summit. Their expenses were all paid by conference sponsors, although the district allocated $135 each for miscellaneous expenses.
Brooks can be reimbursed for up to $190 in miscellaneous expenses.
The American Association of School Administrators is also holding a conference in Denver this week, although Brooks is not attending.