Fresno Unified board hires former PR head as a contractor

The Fresno BeeJanuary 8, 2014 

A contract with a New York-based communications group owned by Fresno Unified's former public information head stirred the district's school board Wednesday night, with three trustees vocally assailing the move that ultimately passed.

The board voted 4-3 to approve the contract. Trustees Luis Chavez, Michelle Asadoorian and Christopher De La Cerda opposed it.

The measure contracts with Greene Street Communications, a public relations company that's owned and operated by two former Fresno Unified communications department employees -- former chief information officer Jamilah Fraser and former communications analyst Shana Kemp.

"We have not filled the positions, and we still need those services, so we're continuing with the same people," said trustee Carol Mills. "As an interim solution, that is the best solution under the current circumstances."

Under the contract, Fraser and Kemp will be paid $100 an hour to do written and video communications and help plan the district's convocation event next August.

Fraser and Kemp also will help train a new chief communications officer when the district hires one. A Florida candidate who was hired for that job backed out last fall.

The school board was split on the contract, with opponents concerned that the district already has a public relations staff that could handle its communications plan.

Asadoorian called that team "robust" and noted the staff has grown over the years she's served on the board. The communications department has eight employees, said district spokeswoman Susan Bedi.

Other members said they're worried Fraser and Kemp are simply too far away. Both former employees resigned in August to take jobs at Medgar Evers College in New York.

"I understand they attempt to make their access wide, but I still have that concern," De La Cerda said. "I believe we should be looking closer to home rather than across the country."

The agreement is retroactive to Nov. 1, 2013. Superintendent Mike Hanson said the group has already been paid about $30,000. Fraser and Kemp will be paid no more than $95,000 when the contract ends on June 30.

Fraser said both herself and Kemp are still employed full-time at Medgar Evers and plan to work on Fresno Unified projects on a part-time basis. She said Greene Street Communications is a new business partnership between herself and Kemp and Fresno Unified is their only client.

In other business, the board discussed preliminary statistics showing a slight jump in the number of current high school seniors who applied to college this year. The data shows almost 300 more students applied to California State University schools than last year, bringing the total number of CSU applicants to 2,056. But, 55 fewer kids applied to private schools, with only 177 submitting applications.

Some board members said they're concerned more students aren't vying for spots at private schools or universities outside California. Others said they'd like the district to collect more data on how many students end up getting accepted and actually enroll.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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