If an army marches on its stomach, does government march on public relations?
With apologies to Napoleon, we had to ask the question. The Hillsborough County School Board is expected to consider today whether to pay public relations giant Hill & Knowlton $375,000 to publicize a $100 million grant for teacher training that the district received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
That's pretty good change to promote what's already a success story. Hillsborough was one of only a few school districts across the country to win the award. The teachers' union signed on, which is an early show of faith. The money will go a long way toward putting better teachers in the classroom, an important step toward improving education. Not only is this private money, but the people behind the Gates organization, which brought the world Microsoft, will be engaged throughout the process. There has not been a more positive story about local government in recent memory.
In short, the district does not face a Toyota problem. Why, then, spend all that money that could go somewhere else? The district says it needs to reach out to educators and the public early on to build confidence in a new system for recruiting and paying teachers. And Gates expects that a communications strategy will be part of the plan. But the school district, which is Hillsborough's biggest employer, ought to be able to handle this. It should not require heavy lifting, and that $375,000 could be better spent carrying out the reforms instead of promoting them.