The largest new expenditure was a $55,000 contract given to former Ann Arbor News reporter Casey Hans to create a district newspaper and write stories for it. Other smaller contracts - some awarded to former district employees - were given for professional development.[N.B.: That is just the cost of the contract. I imagine that printing and mailing increase the total cost to the $100,000 range.]
Roberts said money for Hans’ contract came from backing down on the district’s advertising buys and transferring some money into the communications budget from another district budget.
On the one hand, I understand the problem. AAPS is not the only group struggling to figure out what to do in the wake of the Ann Arbor News closing. Many nonprofits are struggling to figure out how to get their message out to people. I know a handful of people who read annarbor.com on-line regularly, and another group who read the Ann Arbor Chronicle, but most of the people I know have taken to reading them occasionally, if at all, and relying on WEMU and WUOM for their local news. I recently read a blog post (sorry, can't remember where) that talked about the loss of the Ann Arbor News as the loss of a common, community document. In other words, although we still have news sources, we are not all relying on the same news sources, and so our understandings of "news" is fragmented. All of which poses a problem for the school district and a whole slew of other nonprofits and businesses. I understand this newsletter as an attempt to provide consistent messaging and information to a larger group of people. Added to that, I've been a paid newsletter editor, and I know it can be time consuming.
On the other hand, is this the solution? First, newsletters by their very nature are public relations pieces. They are not "news" in any critical sense. Public relations pieces are not necessarily bad, and they can be informational, but if you take a look at this new newsletter online, you will see that it has a lot of "good news" of the sort that can already be found in the This Week bulletin. At least this first issue is more "puff" than "information." [Seriously. The top article? Eberwhite teachers reach out to tutor young students at Parkhurst.]
We already have a communications manager at the school district. Supposedly, we have a budget crisis. It becomes really hard to believe what the district is saying. If we "need" to cut school staff and we "need" to cut what people get paid, and we "need" to protect classroom resources most of all, and we "couldn't" fund a grantwriter unless the funding came from a new/foundation source, then why the hell are we funding a new school newsletter? Really, we should be cutting the communications budget by at least 20%, not holding it neutral or increasing it. How will this newsletter protect and improve student outcomes? And why doesn't it even have any real news in it?
Oh, shoot. Now we're back to that transparency thing.