Lerner objects to PR cost in Pinellas performance pay grant
The Pinellas school district will spend $144,000 in federal grant money on a public relations firm as part of an effort to implement teacher performance pay in four struggling middle schools. The school board voted 5-1 Tuesday to approve the expense, which will cover two years of work by the firm Hill & Knowlton.
“I understand we probably would benefit from some help,” said board member Linda Lerner, the lone dissenter. But, she continued, $144,000 is too much and district staff should be able to handle much of the effort itself.
The PR cost is part of a five-year, $7.2 million federal grant that Pinellas was awarded in September to try merit pay at Azalea, Bay Point, John Hopkins and Pinellas Park middle schools.
The district indicated in the grant that it needed $144,000 for the PR effort, which will be overseen by the district’s Office of Strategic Communications and include outreach to teachers and parents.
“Plan components will include branding and key messaging aimed at both internal and external audiences,” reads the grant application language covering communications. “A well-developed, targeted community outreach campaign will explain the PBCS to various groups using printed materials such as fact sheets, hand-outs and mailers; face-to-face communication at town hall and Parent Teacher Association and School Advisory Council meetings; and online and social media including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and chat rooms.”
Board members Peggy O’Shea and Carol Cook suggested the cost was not a problem.
“There are two things I know about this district,” Cook said. “They are one, communication is an issue. And secondly, the back and forth and getting information from our stakeholders is paramount.”
“Because of that,” she continued, “I’m going to support this expenditure. I don’t think $144,000 over two years is too much for us to be able to get this clarified, get the good news about what we are doing in this district out in the hands of people and in the minds of people, and we take control of the communication rather than – and I don’t mean any offense by this – but by relying on the media to get our message. We need to be the ones in charge of that.”
Board chair Janet Clark noted the amount was written into the grant application.
“It’s neither here nor there how I feel about it. It’s earmarked for that specific thing and I don’t think we have a whole lot of choice in it,” she said. “I don’t think they’re going to let us say, ‘Oh well, you know, we gave you this money to spend on communications, so spend $5 on communications and use $139,000 on books.’ “
For more details on the communication plan, click on the link below and scroll down to “Element 1: Communication Plan.”