Thursday, March 4, 2010

Money, News, and AAPS

During school break, David Jesse had an article in about the money the Ann Arbor Public Schools are spending on contractors. Leaving aside the 33% increase in spending, there is this:
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.
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.
[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.]

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 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.


  1. Ruth,
    While possibly an AAPS produced newsletter is not the ideal option we are faced with producing new ways to communicate what is going on in the distirct. This on line publication is not meant to replace the Ann Arbor News. It is meant to allow the district to better promote the great things going on in this district. We do not print this publication so your assumption of those added costs are incorrect. This is strictly an online publication.
    The communciations buget is $185,000. This is very small considering what is paid for in this budget including printing of all district and high school publications for back to school, etc. No new money was used to hire Casey on a contract basis. This information can be found in the district's budget documents. Everyone has their own views on what is "real news" but so far we have received an excellent response from the AAPSNews! I would be happy to sit down with anyone to go over the communications budget.

  2. It won't be available in print? Then why do it? In my experience, the people who don't read and the Ann Arbor Chronicle are the same people who don't read things online unless they are looking for very specific information.

  3. It would be good to distribute a newsletter in print so everyone can hear the same thing, many organizations did that and then many moved to posting a newsletter online to save the money for the print and paper, but still for those who don't go online so much or at all it would be nice for them to get the newsletter. It is a nice idea.

  4. A printed version can be selected on the site that people can print out themselves. It is not available in print because there is no funding to print a document like this in the communications budget. Schools can print out copies for families who do not have online capabilities.

  5. Oops, sorry. This last message was from Liz Margolis, not my son Nick!

  6. Nick is welcome to comment anytime:)

  7. My problem with all of these ads from AAPS is that they are all about this award and that championship. Reading this week bulletin, the first 8 articles are about winning awards and contests. These have nothing to do with the reality of most AAPS students who never win anything. Let's stop putting the elite on a pedestal and get back to education for everyone!

  8. The link to The Ann Arbor Public Schools newsletter is: A shorter print edition is available on the site in a PDF format for download, or individual stories can also be printed. We welcome story ideas about events and programs in Ann Arbor schools. Send them to:
    Thank you.
    Casey Hans

  9. Well, this is a well-timed post! Stefanie Murray and I have begun meeting with PTOs this month to show them how they can share school news on's new neighborhood pages. We are aiming to meet with all PTOs in the district in the next couple of months.

    Speaking both as an staffer and a PTO co-president, I can see PTOs using the "Got News?" feature to post articles about service projects, student awards, upcoming fund-raisers, concerts, plays — the possibilities are endless. And these could be articles they are already producing for monthly newsletters and e-notes, so it needn't be extra work.

    This isn't to say we won't still feature news and events from schools, both online and in print. In fact, right now we're giving reporters assignments to cover talent shows, multicultural days, disability workshops, etc. through the end of the year. Story ideas, as well as questions about the neighborhood pages, can be sent to

    Jen Eyer
    Community Assistant,

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