Conway School District Superintendent Jeff Collum

To the surprise of at least two schools, Conway School District Superintendent Jeff Collum lists them among 12 Arkansas clients of his private consultant business, Triad Consultants.

The Arkansas Times learned of the situation after the Bentonville School District said it never hired Triad Consultants, even though the district is listed as a client on Triad’s website.

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“We are proud to present our list of clients over the past 15 years. At TRIAD, we have had the pleasure of working with a diverse range of clients, from small startups to large corporations,” Triad’s website states. “Our commitment to providing exceptional service and delivering results has allowed us to build long-lasting relationships with our clients. Take a look at our impressive list of clients and see for yourself the quality work we provide.

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In response to a public-records request for any contract or agreement with Collum’s business during the past 15 years, Bentonville Superintendent Debbie Jones first said the district had no such documents. “We don’t know what you are referring to,” Jones said in an email. “What services does he provide?”

After the Times shared a link to the Triad website, Jones wrote, “Bentonville Schools has never paid Triad or Jeff Collum for any service. It’s likely that my security director attended a training required/hosted by … [the Criminal Justice Institute] as part of security requirements but we wouldn’t have known who was teaching the training. In this case, CJI may be the client but Bentonville Schools has not been a client of Triad.”

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Asked about the matter, Collum said he did a school-safety training at the district “several years ago.”

“Maybe the word ‘client’ has caused some confusion,” he said in an email. “My sincere apologies if it has. I’ve taught several classes over the years for school safety and had a lot of districts and participants that have been truly amazing.”

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Collum confirmed that he was doing this training for the Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute. Collum had not removed Bentonville from the list as of today.

Superintendent Kim Anderson of the Benton School District, where Collum formerly was superintendent, also had trouble finding records that Benton had been a Triad client.

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“Our CFO checked our accounting records and we do not show any expenditures for Triad Consultants,” Anderson said in an email. “I’ve been at Benton for 7 years with 2 years as Superintendent and to the best of my knowledge, we have not used this vendor.”

Asked about this matter, Collum responded, “Same as Bentonville.”

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In fact, Collum confirmed that all the Arkansas schools listed on his website were clients of Collum’s other employer, the Criminal Justice Institute.

The discrepancy can be chalked up to semantics, Collum suggested.

Collum’s website also lists several clients in Texas, where he formerly worked.

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You may recall that the Times reported recently that Collum and Jason Black, Conway’s deputy superintendent, are allowed to do some outside work during the school day. Now, we’ve learned more about that outside work, though we’ve since obtained an email in which Collum told board members last month that his consultancy work is on his own time.

“In summary. Zero dollars paid to me from the district for any triad work,” Collum told board members in a March 12 email. “All outside of the district. On my time. Mainly schools safety related. And consulting is allowed as written into my contract.”

Collum was less adamant in a March 15 statement to the Times about all outside work being on his own time. In that statement, 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.”

Like Collum, Black is also an adjunct teacher for the Criminal Justice Institute.

Indeed, Collum’s contract, approved Jan. 9, allows for some outside work as long as it does “not interfere in a material and substantial manner” with his obligations as superintendent.

Black’s contract does not address outside employment, but in an email to the Times, 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.”

It’s unclear how much of Collum’s and Black’s work for the Criminal Justice Institute comes during a school day, though it would appear at least some of it does.

All of the institute’s courses are held during during the work week, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., said Carol Waddle, the institute’s associate director for administrative services. 

We won’t go into all workshop sessions in recent years, but here are a few.

Collum and Black did a training session in Hope on Thursday, Dec. 7, from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., according to the institute. Collum did a Friday, June 16, workshop from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in Rogers. That one was during his summer break. On Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022, Collum did a training session at Jonesboro High School.

Neither Collum nor Black has responded to an email asking about training sessions that took place on school days during school hours or in the summer. Superintendent contracts often cover at least some work in the summer.

Collum makes $1,000 per course. Black is paid $250 to $1,000 per course, depending upon class length. Both men teach two or three courses every six months, Waddle said. Collum taught a class in Conway at one point but “but did not invoice for that session,” Waddle said.

That income, while not especially large, came despite this email Conway school board member Jason Sandefer sent to Collum on March 12 after the Times did a public-records request about the outside work.

“To be sure, does Mr. Black’s contract state that he can also do consulting work on the side? And also, you have told us that Triad has not received compensation but to be completely sure, have you or Mr. Black directly received compensation for consulting?”

If there was a written answer from Collum or Black about the compensation, it was not shared with the Times.

As superintendent, Collum makes an annual salary of $241,285, a $1,000 monthly car allowance and an annual $15,000 stipend by the district.

Black makes $126,270 plus $600 a month for in-district travel expenses.

Not everyone is happy about administrators being allowed to work other jobs at least to some degree during the school day. Teachers aren’t granted that flexibility. And a proposal currently under consideration could put new limits on teachers’ communication and internet access during the school day.

One teacher who chose to remain anonymous said on Facebook, “It is outrageous and disgusting that the superintendent of Conway Public Schools ‘earns’ [more than] $235,000 a year while simultaneously working a second ‘consulting’ job during Conway contract hours.

“Teachers in our district work two or even three jobs to barely make ends meet and they can’t overlap their work. It’s a slap in the face and a disgrace to our community,” said the teacher, whose identity we have confirmed. The teacher said Collum should resign and “repay time he stole from the students of Conway Public Schools.”