Please define the word “public” – DPS spends 20 minutes to decide on 5.

Up on the sixth floor of the DPS palace (that was purchased with little citizen input) is a small conference room where the School Board met today. Bottles of water, notepads and folders were set in place. The board filed in, quite informally, and found their places and a single guest, me. They were gracious enough to allow me to sit at the table, but when the first issue came up (the $108,000 no-bid professional services contract to Burges & Burges) it took 20 minutes to decide if the public (me) was going to be allowed to speak.

Unfortunately, my Olympus WS 300M  “Digital Voice Recorder” failed me miserably, and in listening to this embarrassing debate of what the word “public” meant (much like President Clinton’s asking to define the meaning of “is”) and if this meeting of the School Board was in fact, a meeting of the School Board, they allowed me to speak for 5 minutes.

And, with all my preparation of a cover letter, a proposal, and analysis of the Burges & Burges proposal- I had sort of forgotten to prepare for an actual chance to talk. So, if I sound like an idiot, it’s because I went unprepared. Not a smooth move. By the time they granted me permission to talk, I had taken out my laptop and started recording. I am posting the discussion for those of you who are interested. MP3 of Work Session appx 40 minutes.

My observations of the Board are that they are quite enamored with Dr. Stanic, who I met for the first time today. They want to keep him and are still in the honeymoon phase. He hasn’t asked for much, and if he wants a consultant, we’ll grant him his consultant. He pointed out that he is running the district with 11 less administrators- and was quite adroit at reminding the Board that they had hired Burges & Burges before he was even their candidate, and at one point asked how much they had paid Burges in the past- and how much Burges charged the board to bring Stanic in on the search. The board had no answers to those questions btw.

Joe Lacey was the sole vote against the contract. Not only was he questioning the selection of Burges, of Burges’s practices, but also of his polling numbers. When Burges reported to the board in June that the levy had 43% support- Lacey claims Burges left out the fact that it only had 43% opposition as well- making it seem like they were behind instead of tied. He also looked at the actual poll and found Burges’s sample was skewed to the East side, where the most opposition was. Interesting stuff, but not the stuff to sway the rest of the board. In fact, Lacey is totally against the district hiring any PR help, saying that other districts don’t do it. At one point Dr. Stanic asks Mr. Lacey if he’s questioning Dr. Stanic’s ethics- since Lacey had said the hiring of Burges could look like payoff for a job well done on the levy. I get the feeling that Joe doesn’t have any friends on the board- and, although all of them, with the exception of Stacy Thompson do know me at least in passing, I felt like I had even fewer friends.

If there is one piece of PR advice I can give to anyone in public office- active listening is more important than anything you’ll ever say. Dr. Stanic showed that he has this skill in his toolkit- and he extended an offer to meet with me, although I doubt it would change his position on this contract.

It is still my position that a local firm could do a much better job. To quote a friend, who works in the Dayton Public Schools- “you always play better at home” bringing a sports analogy to what I’m sure is going to be a politically charged football as word of this no-bid becomes better known.

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9 Responses

  1. Joe Lacey January 10, 2009 / 11:34 pm
    I think Dr. Stanic said that I questioned his integrity. He was wrong. I’m not sure what he thought I was suggesting but all I had asked is whether his choice had anything to do with Bill Burges’ performance on a past contract. There is nothing wrong with choosing someone because you felt that they did a good job on a previous contract. Dr. Stanic may have been upset that I had found some serious faults with his choice of a PR person, but that’s not questioning Dr. Stanic’s integrity.

    My point on the polling was that Bill Burges was misleading in his presentation to the board in December of 2008. Burges’ message at that meeting was pretty clear. He told us that according to polling we were behind in July of 2008 and because of his and others hard work we went from being behind to winning the levy. As far as I can tell no one from the district had seen the July poll results. I had asked to see them on different occasions but didn’t get them until yesterday.

    The poll results that I looked at yesterday would indicate to me that we were ahead from the very beginning.

    I was a little surprized that no one else at that meeting seemed interested in the poll results. It’s not that often that a district gets such a study of the feelings of its constituency on a variety of education related issues.

  2. David Esrati January 10, 2009 / 11:41 pm
    Joe- no one seemed interested in discussing what Burges was going to provide the district in terms of tangible deliverables either. They rubber stamped a $108,000 contract with no questions about what Burges would do. The whole thing was rather surreal.
    I have a feeling there will be blowback on the no-bid part.
    I was truly amazed at the amount of time they spent debating letting me speak- compared to the amount of time analyzing what they were buying.
  3. Dad January 11, 2009 / 9:28 am

    I covered the Celina school board for about a year and a half, going to all its meetings. I never saw any outsiders present. Later, when I edited the paper in Van Wert, I attended a few school board meetings and never saw any outsiders.
    I can understand the need to discuss whether David could speak. It’s probably unprecedented.

  4. David Esrati January 11, 2009 / 10:33 am
    @dad- times have changed. The DPS meetings almost always have speakers- and one of them, a fired teacher- Loretta Cephus, was arrested several times.
    The reason they were meeting on a Saturday afternoon- outside of their regularly scheduled meetings- was to avoid scrutiny of the public- and the press. In fact, they discussed that in the first 20 minutes. They knew full well why they were there- and why I was there. In their regular meetings, there are video cameras recording the session- here, there wasn’t even a tape recorder.
    This is why they need PR help- they are afraid of their customers- who have lost faith in their organization.
    One of the questions posed on the recording- is “Have you worked on levy campaigns”- to which my answer was that I don’t believe in political campaigns made up of soundbites and yard signs. I feel that if the district is doing a great job- and communicating clearly- voters should be ready to vote for a levy when one is due. And, in the current economic environment, if they are thinking about another ask- in the next 18 months with Burges & Burges,they are dreaming.
  5. Joe Lacey January 11, 2009 / 12:05 pm
    The contract was moved to Saturday’s meeting because it had been tabled on Tuesday. I asked that it be tabled because I wanted to see the polling information before I considered the contract. The polling information, which Mr. Burges had previously withheld from the board was, I felt, an important measure of his success or failure in the levy campaign and I say it shows that that levy would have been hard to lose.
  6. Rascally Rascal January 11, 2009 / 3:53 pm
    The levy passed because residents saw it as much more reasonable than the giant who fell.

    Not because of any P.R. shucksters.

    By its very nature, the P.R. and advertising businesses are one’s wherein’ humans are paid to lie about, or harp upon only the positive in order to help move products.

    So why should anyone really be surprised that Burges only presented the good stuff?

  7. Larkin January 12, 2009 / 2:14 am
    David,
    I covered the school board in Livingston, MT for nearly a decade. Every meeting, often boring as death. But given the pressure that ehe paper brought to bear we got them to pay Librarians (whom they required to have teacher’s degrees) teacher’s wages, we got them to allow Rolling Stone to stay in the High School library, we got them to allow a student who’d completed all his credits by the first semester of Junior year to graduate early so that he could attend culinary school. We stirred up the public when necessary and I’d like to think that we held the board’s hand to the fire so to speak. Because people behave differently and take different decisions when they think they’re being watched. There’s no reason this couldn’t work the same here, God knows there’s no real news in the DDN. They’d just have to drop some filler. They think their readers don’t care, but they’re wrong. They do care. It’s up to the media to help the public know what’s going on in their community and Cox fails this community horribly every single day.
  8. Jennifer March 27, 2009 / 9:18 am
    Dr. Stanic has been in the district for a short while. He has done more for the district than Dr. Mack. He seems to have the ability to make tough decisions, i.e. firing admin, and seems to think long-term financially, i.e. return to a traditional calendar. Dr. Mack spent too much money and walked around in fancy suits. Mack was only looking out for his own interests.

    Why would you purchase the second building on Ludlow? Did you know at Wilbur Wright Middle school the classes are packed almost forty students per class.

  9. David Esrati March 27, 2009 / 10:24 am

    @Jennifer- I don’t know about a purchase of a second building on Ludlow- I know they own both sides of the street- and recently leased the other to Premier Health Partners.
    I agree that Stanic seems to do more than Mack. However, I still don’t agree with his no-bid contract for PR from a Cleveland firm.

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