The Fresno Unified School District has spent more than $52,000 to promote its I Am Ready campaign, which aims to increase the high school graduation rate.
According to records obtained by The Bee, as of Aug. 1 nearly $30,000 had been spent on public service announcements aired on ABC 30 and KSEE 24 and for an “online presence” on their websites. About $15,000 has been spent on advertisements in The Bee, and more than $7,000 has been spent on posters.
The Fresno Teachers Association has criticized the district’s spending, saying that money should go to classrooms instead.
“It’s shameful that the district keeps wasting money on public relations,” union President Tish Rice said. “We need more teachers, support staff and supplies. We serve some of the poorest students in the state. The last thing our students need is more advertising.”
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On Friday, Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias defended spending on the I Am Ready campaign and said since it has launched, the number of parent volunteers has doubled to nearly 1,000.
“This initiative allows the district to broaden its community engagement efforts, garnering feedback at outreach meetings, encouraging volunteerism, parent participation and collaboration on all levels,” he said.
The district has been criticized for its public relations spending before. Last year, the district hired New York-based PR specialists at $100 an hour to assist its communications department. The two outside consultants were hired in the midst of the district’s “lease-leaseback” contract controversy. The district is currently under federal investigation concerning those no-bid construction contracts.
They’re wasting education money that should be going to our students.
Fresno Unified teacher Jon Bath
The teachers union also has questioned the size of the district’s communications department, which has doubled since 2012. The district employs 12 full-time employees in its communications department, which has a budget of $2.4 million.
Fresno Unified teacher Jon Bath, who is involved with the union, has voiced concerns publicly about the district’s spending, recently asking on Twitter, “Why is a public school district running ads?” in reference to the I Am Ready campaign.
The campaign launched in January and aims to boost the district’s graduation rate from 82 percent to a full 100 percent. Mayor Ashley Swearengin also is involved in the campaign, urging all Fresnans to get involved regardless if they have children in the district.
It’s shameful that the district keeps wasting money on public relations.
Fresno Teachers Association President Tish Rice
Arias shot back at the union’s questions about the district’s spending by sending The Bee 25 pages worth of the union’s campaign disclosure forms.
“In clear contrast, during the same time, the Fresno Teachers Association spent more than $100,000 on political consultants alone,” Arias said. “Fresno Unified is proud to continue celebrating the successes of our students and staff while proactively engaging more of our community as we excel beyond our record high graduation and college-going rates.”
Bath has urged the district to release an update of its legal costs, as well. According to emails, Bath asked for details about the district’s legal spending in a public records request May 19. While the district replied to a previous request from Bath related to spending, it delayed his latest request several times. According to emails, the district lists “this busy time of year” and the closing of schools for delays in May and June. In another email, the district delays its response to Bath because it “is currently prioritizing requests related to parents and students, related to graduations.”
Bath said the district is “blatantly ignoring the law,” referencing the California Public Records Act, which requires public agencies to respond to requests for records within 10 days. He said he is pursuing the records as a taxpayer and not on behalf of the union.
Friday evening, Bath said in an email to The Bee that he was beginning to receive information from the district related to his request.
The district continues to meet our legal deadlines for initial responses.
Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias on records requests
The district is being sued by a contractor over a no-bid contract it signed with Harris Construction, and has chosen to fight the case. As of April, the district had nearly half a million dollars in legal bills related to the case. In June, Fresno Unified denied a public records request made by The Bee, refusing to disclose other potential legal fees that could be added to that bill.
“We’ve got $750 an hour attorneys working these cases that are a choice. They’re choosing to do this. They’re wasting education money that should be going to our students. These are education dollars,” Bath said.
“These costs should be released with all the other expenditures every month, but they’re not being pulled out for some reason. It makes me wonder what is Fresno Unified hiding.”
Arias says that Bath’s request still is pending “due to the scope and nature” of the request and said the district expects to provide the information next week.
“The district continues to meet our legal deadlines for initial responses and will continue to be responsive,” Arias said.