Hey, District 428: First things first!

The Daily Chronicle reports today that DeKalb School District is considering hiring a Communications Director (translation: PR person).

DeKALB – It’s hard to imagine a multimillion-dollar corporation without a communications director.

But that’s just what the DeKalb School District is, said Northern Illinois University professor of communications Steve Ralston.

On Tuesday, Ralston talked to the school board about creating a communications plan for the district. District officials have said the district wants to provide more information to the public about the school district, and the best way to do it is to hire a person to oversee that on a daily basis. The board has debated hiring an individual or a public relations firm.

So, they want to hire an expert to say nice things about the schools and pay him/her $100,000 per year.

Here’s what the Northern Star had to say about our high school recently:

While racial tension at DeKalb High School has been a hot conversation topic, DHS students find the school’s cleanliness is the real issue.

Last fall, a survey conducted by the Stearnes Group showed students felt the need for more respect for certain groups, including racial and sexual orientation groups. ..Respect problems aside, [DHS principal Lindsey] Hall said the survey showed the high school has a bigger issue.

“The item that came out as the biggest problem is that the school is not clean,” Hall said.

Think about how bad it’s got to be if the teenagers are noticing it–and “not clean” may be an understatement. A DHS student who lives in my neighborhood has told me about mold in the band room and rickety stairs. Seems to me that if they can cough up $100k for more personnel, it should go toward maintenance staff and repairs.

24 thoughts on “Hey, District 428: First things first!”

  1. I took a PR class in college. Our first assignment was to write a press release emphasizing the “positives” in a story about a college basketball player who got busted for drugs. Huh? Boy, did I suffer in that class. I’m more the cranky Rottweiler type when it comes to news. I didn’t like the class in advertising that I took, either.

  2. yinn… There are recognizable patterns in this story. First is the common comparison of a school district to a multi-million dollar corporation. The second is:

    “It is consistent with what’s going on in other school districts,” he said. [Ralston]

    These ideas are promoted whenever the school district wants to add to their administrative payroll. That is what is really consistent with what’s going on in other school districts.

    If the school district really wants to be like the multi-millon dollar corporations then how about some down sizing? How about some corporate merging of the administrative staffs of DeKalb and Sycamore?

    How about some good ol’ corporate outsourcing of non-productive departments? Where would we start? Ummm…

    “The item that came out as the biggest problem is that the school is not clean,” Hall said.

    I wonder if we bid out Driver’s Ed how much money could be saved?
    Based on 2005 salaries: Tim Holt $95,672; Dave Pettengell $89,648; Mark Sykes $72,105 – it looks like there might be room for some savings there.

    As long as we’re thinking about corporate outsourcing, I wonder if we could save anything on the $3,526,653 (2005) we spend on non-administrative, non-classroom teaching positions? Salary source: thechampion.org

    Methinks they better run from any corporate comparisons.

    If they truly want to keep the citizens informed about our schools maybe they should put their website to better use. Surely, the highly educated teachers and administrators could post to their website. Maybe then they wouldn’t have to outsource for a paid study to tell them to clean their buildings?

  3. If they truly want to keep the citizens informed about our schools maybe they should put their website to better use. Surely, the highly educated teachers and administrators could post to their website. Maybe then they wouldn’t have to outsource for a paid study to tell them to clean their buildings?

    Ha, ha! Always, you cut to the chase!

    Mac, I’m with you. This is unnecessary, almost like a status thing, & to pursue the creation of this new position–when basic standards of cleanliness apparently aren’t being met–approaches the obscene. It’s also dumb because no PR department is going to overcome word-of-mouth.

    Who is behind the push, do you know? Mr. Beilfus?

  4. The evolution of teaching math since the 1950s……

    Teaching Math In 1950

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

    Teaching Math In 1960

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

    Teaching Math In 1970

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

    Teaching Math In 1980

    A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20 Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

    Teaching Math In 1990

    A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers.)

    Teaching Math In 2006

    The correct answers for the test are on the chalk board. Please mark your test paper as outlined on the board while we watch the movie A Beautiful Mind directed by Opie Taylor, good friend of Barney Fife, and Sheriff Taylor’s son. Who knows the name of Opie’s aunt? Hint: Second lettter in the alphabet which you learned in 5th grade.

  5. Speaking as a member of the District #428 teaching staff there are far better ways to use $100,000. All our middle schools and high school are very badly over crowded, buildings are in need of many repairs, maintance staff is badly overstretched, on and on- if they think spending $100,000 for a PR person is going to help them pass the next referendum they should think again-like corporations, bureaucracies of all types, the one’s in charge are so far out of touch with the day to day they keep driving in one direction while the rest of the train is off the tracks and going for the ditch.

    Word of mouth is by far the best advertisement-true positive image is created everyday by what you do. Please speak your truths to the school board-remember they were elected to represent you.

  6. OMG, Andy, those photos are horrifying. But what an idea to have the children document the neglect. Perhaps there’s empowerment in that, if they can shame the grownups into action.

  7. yinn… I hope a school board member or more takes you up on your invitation and participates in this discussion. I would suggest to them that there are more votes to gain here than there are to lose.

    I would also suggest to them to consider holding Town Hall type meetings, sans-admin, for needed unfettered exchange with the public.

    And since they are likely to take you up on 1/2 of your offer, let me say that I truly am grateful for their commitment of time and energy on behalf of our children and the taxpayers. It is a sad statement that we, the taxpayers, would pay members of the DeKalb Sanitary District $500 per month plus access to the county and municipal health care benefits yet expect school board members to provide their time, be the subject of criticism to the extent they are, and to do so as volunteers. Pardon the pun but that’s a bunch of crap.

    andy… thanks for providing that link. I’m studying it. One observation. The picture of the broken light switch infuriates me, As bad as the light switch cover is I see there are four screws that would fit a regular screw driver. The cost to replace that cover and both switches would be under 50 bucks. It is a task we should expect maintenance staff to be able to perform.

    Thats my same position on the mold yinn was told about. A faulty light switch and/or mold is a life safety issue. If the school district maintenance staff is too overtaxed in work orders to address conditions that are dangerous to our teachers and students then someone needs to let the public know. I guarantee that related service providers would address such issues on a pro-bono basis, if allowed to do so.

    However, since the school district is sitting on a substantial surplus fund, combined with the fact that the current administrators of the city’s TIFF monies will do whatever is needed to help with life safety issues, I suggest to y’all another consistent pattern: Neglect of existing buildings to use as a PR tool for the purpose of passing a referendum.

    treesfieldssky is correct, in my opinion, as to the real motivation behind hiring a PR person. And if we are both correct and the school district hires this new $100,000 admin position, the taxpayers will have unwittingly subsidized an illegal action since State law prohibits the spending of tax dollars for the purpose of selling a referendum. I’m sure the measured response will be: No one has challenged this new practice pattern in court.

  8. The inequity between what the members of the Sanitary District Board receive vs. School Board is news to me. Certainly the School Board does have to put up with much more; I’ve seen it myself. They deserve our thanks.

    That being said, I think we need to make it loud & clear that if the District is leaving the schools to rot to hire a PR person–no matter what the motivation–they have gotten their priorities very, very screwed up. I don’t care what tricks a PR person or department can do, this hire is not going to make me more likely to vote “yes” on the next referendum.

    The previous referenda should have been a clue. So to anyone reading this who supported them and subsequently implied that the “no” voters were cheap-ass, uncaring simians incapable of long-term planning: That wasn’t it! If we thought you were spending our $$$ wisely, you would have gotten one of them passed!

  9. As much as the school board has to put up with I do think they know it comes with the territory. After all, political office is a public service first and foremost.

    It’s an interesting thought that communities are able to get firefighters to volunteer (a job that strikes me as far more dangerous than school board member or mayor) but our politicians must be compensated.

    Maybe the problem is how politicians view what their positions are supposed to be. The school board should help the schools in anyway possible first and use it as a springboard to further a political career or boost a resume last.

  10. FYI some of the problems described here are not universal. I took a tour of Lincoln Elementary School today. I found it very clean, in good repair & attractive. Also, it is not overcrowded, although it is anticipated that Lincoln will need to build in the next few years to keep up with its growing enrollment. Will the dollars be there for capital improvements to our lovely little schools when they are needed?

  11. And then the other side of this PR fiasco. Press liasons do nothing save further distance elected officials from the population. Make them seem further away and people are likely to view them as far away.

    As Dist. 428’s press contact diminishes to sound bites from their “spokesman/woman” the public, in general, will see the board members and administrators as further away as well. If your public face is a press liason you can only expect the public to view you in a cold or harsh light.

    Besides wasting money. Which this does. School boards, and municipal government in general, need to be close to the people they represent. A PR person goes directly in the face of that spirit. Anyone who has watched a White House press conference knows this.

  12. The reason the board wants to hire a PR person is the damn apathy this community feels about our schools! I was excited to see this blog hopefully people will get involved and find a solution instead of just venting.
    The board put out a “Community Survey” they go 300 replys….pitiful!

  13. Welcome Mel! Glad to have you join the discussion, & think you will enjoy it. The last thing you will find here is apathy. We care deeply about our city & our schools. My beef is that the school board seems bent on hiring more administrators at a time where every spare penny should be going into building.

    Did you take the survey? What was in it?

  14. It is disappointing that no school board member has responded to any of this.

    yinn… I posted a link from my website to the school survey that was on 428’s website. Maybe a dozen of my visitors filled out the survey, based on exit pages. The page is inactive now.

  15. Although none of the board members chose to respond here, two of them did e-mail me. Tia Robinson thanked me for alerting her to the site. Pres. Andy Small wrote,

    I took a look at the site and we are addressing the high school appearance issue. We put some money in next year’s budget and will be voting on it shortly.

    Sorry I missed the survey. Hope the district gets a good picture of people’s true views from it.

  16. Ray Petrie sent a letter to the Chronicle against the Communications Director position:

    It’s easy for some professor at Northern Illinois University who is making a good salary to come up with the idea to pay a communications director $100,000 a year.

    What would be wrong with the school superintendent or his secretary informing the people in DeKalb about any news from the school district?

    Why, indeed?

  17. From the Chronicle:
    >

    The full survey, summarized results and public feedback should be made available on the district’s website… if they truly wish to keep the public informed. It was a web-based survey. It would not require rocket science or extensive data entry to publish the results of this survey online.

    from the Chronicle:
    >

    Chronicle correction:
    >

    The results of this audit should be publicized on the school district’s website, as well as the costs of this audit (if performed by outside vendors).

    and… you go Ray Petrie! More voices are needed.

  18. Another good LTTE in the Chronicle today, by Jack Bennett of DeKalb:

    This time the school board appears determined to employ its own public relations in the form of an assistant superintendent for communications to run its campaign to pass a referendum. Time will tell whether that will be better than the arrogant characters the board hired in the past. Clearly the board members have learned that they must educate the voters not only on the district’s needs, but also on a plan better suited to the community needs and desires than in the previous attempts.

    & here’s another snippet of the letter that I agree with: bigger isn’t better.

    The board apparently (from your reporting) continues to assume that additions and the improvement of existing school facilities are the issues. Your reports of problems in the schools, gangs, fighting, theft and the need for police presence tell me that something is wrong with the schools themselves. The hallways are clean and well-lit, the classrooms well-equipped, etc., but the social problems remain. The report on school size that the board and the Chronicle have been given provides much evidence that large school size is behind most of the problems, but the board as yet has shown no evidence that it has learned that lesson. More and bigger schools will only make the problems worse: The proportion of students who graduate will go down, the crime rate will continue up, more money will be spent on police and “security,” students will be more alienated, and the voters will wonder what happened.

    The only way that the voters will see the next plan as worth their support will be if it shows a vastly different school system of small, neighborhood elementary schools where the majority of children can walk to school, and both students and parents can develop a feeling of community. There will need to be several small middle schools, as well as several high schools, all much smaller than the existing one. Only then will the alienation, crime and unpleasant learning environment be replaced by one that will work.

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