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D-49 hires PR firm without public discussion or bids

September 8, 2011

A public relations firm will be paid $6,000 a month to help Falcon School District 49 with communications, the school board decided Thursday night.

The contract was on a consent agenda, so there was no discussion Thursday and the idea of hiring an outside firm had not been previously discussed at a public meeting. The district did not seek bids on the services.

Board attorney Brad Miller said after the meeting that seven companies were interviewed before the contract was awarded to Red Rock Strategies of Colorado Springs for work through December 2012. Red Rock Strategies has worked with District 49 on previous bond and mill levy campaigns and said it is willing to hire the current part-time communications subcontractor.

The consent agenda of about a dozen items was approved 3-1, with board president Dave Martin abstaining because of a conflict and board member Tammy Harold opposed. Martin said later his conflict of interest involved Red Rock Strategies.

Harold later said she believes the district needs more communications help, but that the decision should have been left to the new board because the contract goes through 2012.

At an August board meeting, D-49 spokeswoman Stephanie Wurtz Meredith told the board that the district spends $9.07 per student on communications and public affairs when comparable districts spend between $13.15 and $40 per student.

Board documents included in Thursday’s meeting packet said some matters that would have been addressed by a communications department have been managed by an attorney to ensure compliance with Colorado Open Records Act.

Other districts include details in packets accompanying agendas for school board meetings that usually must be separately requested from District 49.

Parents and others have regularly requested more communication from the district, including more details and discussion from board members at board meetings.

Board documents said communication matters have been “competently managed,” listing the website, district publications and other platforms.

However, recent events including funding cuts, district reorganization, transportation changes suggest the need “for increased capacity” in the district communications department,” documents said. It was unclear when or how this conclusion was reached.

Information in the board packet said several options were considered, but did not say by who.

The decision to hire an outside contractor was apparently chosen because of the uncertainty of future funding.

In other action Thursday, school board members unanimously approved $35,317 to replace the windows at Evans Elementary School and Patriot Learning center to make the buildings more energy efficient.

The board also learned from Dave Knoche, Falcon Virtual Academy principal, that 17 people are on the waiting list for the online program.

To continue its success and support the growth, the academy needs more physical space, he said.

Martin asked if an enrollment increase would pay for increased costs, and several officials said it would.

Contact the writer at 636-0162.

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