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.