EAST ST. LOUIS — She is the greatest female athlete of the 20th century, according to Sports Illustrated.
Now, Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one of the newest consultants for East St. Louis School District 189, despite financial problems that preceded the closing of her own nonprofit, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center in East St. Louis last year.
The Olympic gold medalist is getting paid nearly $25,000 to help organize a "children's nutrition wellness program," said Superintendent Theresa Saunders.
Consultant positions are used widely in District 189, which has spent at least $3.1 million in federal money for consultants during the academic years 2005-2010.
Saunders explained that the nutrition wellness program is meant to be implemented by teachers and include physical education with information about healthy foods. It will be aimed at students in grades pre-K through eight.
Joyner-Kersee could not be reached for comment.
Although students have regular outside and gym play time during recess, the program will focus on the health benefits of exercise and making nutritious food choices.
"It needs to be more than recess," Saunders said.
The News-Democrat recently reported the millions of dollars that East St. Louis School District has spent on consultants who are paid with Title 1 and Title 2 federal grant money to tutor students, give speeches and lead professional development workshops.
The consultants include:
* Former East St. Louis city manager Lee Coleman, whose firm, LAC & Associates LLC of O'Fallon, receives $100,000 per year to provide "public relations consulting."
* Former District 189 interim superintendent Stan Mims, who is paid $100,000 per year to coach principals and assistant principals and to direct a program to raise high school student test scores. However, the male students' reading test scores dropped 67 percent in the program's first year. Mims, who is in his third consulting year, has said drops in test scores are not his fault because he didn't become the program director until 10 months after it started.
* Faye Tharp, a retired teacher and the sister of St. Clair County Assessor Gordon Bush, gets $15,000 per year to advise on "library media."
Critics call the spending wasteful. Many of the positions are granted to those with political ties. During the time period, high school test scores have declined to 9 percent of high school students at or above state minimum standards. Plus, other districts in the metro-east do not use consultants to perform such tasks.
Joyner-Kersee, 48, a Lincoln High School alumna, is being paid $4,100 per month for the consultant position. At the end of her six-month contract, she will have been paid $24,600.
Joyner-Kersee received her first payment for the position on March 1, although the first meeting to organize the program was April 19, Saunders said.
At the meeting, Joyner-Kersee met with a committee consisting of teachers, food service workers, the district's director of human resources and Saunders.
The program will focus on the lower grades in the school district, but officials also will "take a look at the high school level," Saunders said.
Despite suffering from exercise-induced asthma, Joyner-Kersee was a standout athlete in several high school sports. After graduating, she went to UCLA to play basketball and to compete in track and field.
She excelled in the heptathlon, a seven-event competition that measures speed, strength and stamina in: 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 meters, long jump, javelin and 800 meters. She has held the world record in that event since 1986.
She competed at the Olympic games in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996. She won three gold, one silver, and two bronze medals for her performances in the heptathlon and the long jump.
Also, in 1996 she signed on to play professional basketball for the Richmond Rage of the American Basketball League.
Joyner-Kersee kept strong ties to her hometown.
In 2000, she opened the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center. The after-school center provided East St. Louis students with a safe place to do homework, play sports and hang out with friends.
In January 2009, the News-Democrat reported financial problems at the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, including a deficit of nearly $1 million in 2006. In addition, Joyner-Kersee's foundation paid at least $457,000 from 2003 to 2006 for consulting services to Diversity Through Sports Youth Foundation, a nonprofit organization operated by her husband and coach, Robert Kersee.
In May 2009, the financially-strapped center laid off all of its employees and shut its doors.