EDITORIAL: Beaverton School District sends taxpayers the wrong message by hiring PR firm: Agenda 2013 [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 14--At some point, we've all had to decide whether to undertake a project or hire someone else to do it. The decision-making process generally goes something like this: Do I have the time and skills needed to do it If not, can I afford to hire someone else to do it
If the answer to both questions is no, there always is the option of just waiting to paint the house or build that deck you always wanted. That's what happened across the country during the recent recession.
The Beaverton School District faced a similar decision recently. Last year, the district decided it needed some help polishing its image and building connections with the community. Last week, it hired Weinstein PR to handle the project.
Weinstein likely will perform the task well. But by hiring an outside firm, the district has opened itself to difficult questions.
Why didn't the district show concern for relationships before it was on the brink of asking voters for more money Why can't the district build relationships without a consultant Wouldn't the $58,000 be better spent on a teacher's aide, part-time counselor or some other position that directly benefits students
Like other Oregon school districts, Beaverton needs more money to meet the needs of students. But to get more funding, schools must convince the Legislature and/or voters that it will spend the money wisely. We're guessing that taxpayers who are still trying to save enough money for needed home repairs or more basic needs might question the necessity of spending $58,000 on a public relations firm to help build community connections.
The timing of this decision could hardly be worse. With the Legislature in session, Gov. John Kitzhaber is trying to persuade legislators to support reforms to the Public Employees Retirement System that would free more money for schools. And even the recommended $6.1 billion Kitzhaber proposes for schools is less than educators say they need to avoid more cuts. Also, Beaverton is considering asking voters in the district to support a local-option levy this May to help avoid further erosion of classroom instruction.
So why risk the public backlash by hiring a public relations firm to help the district interface with the community
District spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler said the contract with Weinstein helps augment the district's communications office, which has the equivalent of between four and five full-time employees. Those workers, some shared with other departments, handle tasks ranging from public relations to administration to graphic design and other tasks associated with production of brochures and documents. Also, an outside facilitator sometimes can be more effective in getting focus group participants to open up.
It's not the first time the district has taken this approach. In 2008, the district hired an outside firm to help organize focus groups and community groups as it put together a strategic plan.
Five years later, the district again is going outside for help -- this time for a project it labels "Future Focus: Community Conversations About Hope and Excellence." The project will include meetings with stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers and employers. There also will be targeted meetings with Latino parents, employees at Nike and Intel and university and community college leaders as well as 50 one-on-one phone conversations with community leaders.
In a letter to Beaverton Superintendent Jeff Rose, Lee Weinstein, president of the firm, described what he hopes to accomplish.
"This exercise should take our breath away -- and compel every Beaverton resident and organization to take part. Every student should get up in the morning knowing the vision and his or her role."
Who could argue with that But isn't that what any school district should strive to do -- all the time At the least, why weren't more community connections built after the 2008 discussions
Weinstein, a former Nike executive who has long been involved in Oregon corporate and political affairs, acknowledged that he's been a taxpayer in the Beaverton School District 15 years and has never been asked to volunteer with the schools.
If the district had built connections with people like Weinstein when schools' problems were less pressing, perhaps it wouldn't need to hire him now.
(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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