Friday, June 8, 2012

Spin or service?

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools needs a bigger communications department to keep up with the times, Executive Director LaTarzja Henry told the school board during an update Wednesday.

I almost feel bad about raising the topic in this forum,  which tends to be heavy on taxpayer watchdogs who consider her department a $2 million-a-year spin factory (read about the costs and results here).  I'm not trying to hang Henry up as a virtual piƱata.  In fact,  I thought the presentation gave an interesting overview of all the balls her crew is keeping in the air,  from delving into social media to handling "reputational crises" (think performance pay and bad data) to helping school staff cope with tragedy.

This has been an especially tough school year on that last front,  Henry said,  with 30 student deaths and 17 "staff tragedies."  Many of those didn't make headlines,  but still had to be dealt with among the school communities.

While working with the media is the most visible task,  the department reported on some items that played out below the public radar.  CMS increased its volunteers from 45,700 last year to 67,233 this year.  And the communication folks helped get Ident-A-Kid sign-in systems into 81 schools. That means visitors and volunteers are matched against the sex offender registry and other databases;  people who might pose problems are flagged before they enter.

Of course,  there was a bit of spin on display,  too.  I had to grin when Henry described February news about a driver who got her kids off a smoldering school bus as "exactly the kind of story we love to do."  Personally,  I'm not sure school buses bursting into flames qualify as good news, even when kids escape unharmed.

I don't know if incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison will agree that the communication staff needs more people to handle multimedia and revive CMS-TV.  I do know that communication staff can play a vital role in getting information to the public,  whether it's through reporters, CMS outlets or direct citizen requests.  And ultimately,  it's the person at the top who determines how well that system works.  A bad PR staff might discourage the release of clear,  accurate information,  but I think it's more common for a good one to be forced to run interference for recalcitrant officials.

Balancing communication needs with the push to channel money into classrooms is just one of the tough decisions waiting for Morrison. And it's just one more thing for the rest of us to keep an eye on in the coming months.

22 comments:

Truth Seeker said...

The information communicated must be accurate. A great deal of trust has been lost when "the spin" has little relevance to reality. Long term trust has been lost because of the games CMS plays to gain a small short term advantage with public opinion.

Anonymous said...

I think the entire communications department conveniently reports what they want to report and of course it's about damage control. For instance, did you know that the principal of a Project Lift School has resigned his position to become a part of th Union County Public School System? His resignation was extremely " thoughtful" in the middle of testing....before the scores come out and in the middle of this enormous $55 million dollar initiative; how convenient. Ann this has been public knowledge since Tuesday...where have you been? Do you need more staff to keep up? I guess it's time to bail.....Let's see who is next!

Anonymous said...

And the exodus before the ship sinks has begun.

Or did Watts exercise her authority to order him to leave?

Anonymous said...

The communication department needs an overhaul. Maybe that will be one of the departments that Dr. Morrison will start with.

Anonymous said...

No one knows the circumstances under which he resigned. The only thing I keep hearing from staff is "good riddance." this principal was paid over 120,000 to do absolutely nothing. Ask the staff how many times they have seen him in the building or better yet in their classrooms! He has taken this school back to where they were pre Judge Manning! According to the veteran teachers he has destroyed everything that the former principal achieved due to the sin of arrogance. It is time for CMS to start to ask questions. He has displaced many of the stellar teacher one teacher was "teacher of the year" this was done according to many because of personal reasons for God sake! He does not need to ride off into the sunset to Union County before he is forced to answer the teachers, parents and Central Office Administration for all of the laws that he has broken....a good place to start is school safety and the lack of or non existent procedures....then move to special ed and then finally the river of state test misadministrations.

Christine Mast said...

Regarding the link referenced above to the Management Oversight Report:

(1) I thought we had 18,000 employees, NOT 17,000.

(2) If the last time this dept. presented its Mgmt Oversight Report was 2009, that's a problem for not only the Communications Dept, but the BOE, as well.

(3) Section VI Results: I'd like to know how many of their press releases were CORRECT.

(4) Page 4 of the presentation should be the last page, but they have a blank page 5 at the end. WHY? SLOPPY. From the COMMUNICATIONS department.

Christine Mast said...

For the Power Point Presentation:

Why does every slide have the Slide Title at the bottom?????

Christine Mast said...

Regarding the Ident-A-Kid sign-in systems:

While I think these systems are great, what happens when someone walks into a school, and doesn't bother walking into the front office to sign-in with this system?

And if they DO bother to sign in, what happens if they enter a false name?

To celebrate a system that identifies people who "might pose problems" is great, but only if said people actually stop in the front office, sign-in properly, and use their real name.

Can we develop more procedures to keep our schools safe?

Anonymous said...

Christine, take a hike, or please get a job!! We are so sick of hearing your spin on everything.

Wiley Coyote said...

$2 million dollar CMS Spin Department.........

Atlanta Public Scools

Marketing & Community Relations – Plans and implements internal and external communications for the school district, including media relations, public information and specific community relations activities.

APPROVED
2010-2011
$1,227,901

PROPOSED
2012-2013
$1,079,842

It seems Atlanta can cut their media budget.

Maybe CMS has a hidden line in the communications budget - The Ann Doss-Helms Public information Request Fund that's driving up costs? (for those who don't get it, that's a joke)

Anonymous said...

Director Henry's PR budget needs to be cut 70%.

Rev. Mike said...

"Spin or service?" Large or small, it will always be about spin with that outfit.

Anonymous said...

8:11 Christine may stay, you may leave. She analyzes the information and points out isues and inconsistencies. (FAR too many of them from CMS but that is what we need to know.)

CMS PR: Fire LaTarza. New person, new message, new plan.

CMS HR: Allow Habrat's contract to lapse. There is a reason Pete 1.0 hired him and it was not because he was competent.

Bill Stevens said...

CMS's PR department is just another indication of the pervasiveness of social services employment that is ingrained too deeply in Mecklenburg County's government agencies. Yes there are so exemplary employees in these government bodies but they are shadowed over by the incompetence of too many that are pushed out front for PR purposes.

CMS's PR department is in over its head. It lacks the expertise, the talent and the skill to pull off a competent operation.

Bill Stevens said...

Definition - social services employment - friends and family hiring, adding those to government/tax payer payroll and benefits packages who can not hold public employment jobs, sorority sister hiring, etc.

Mayo Hardware said...

Many of the individuals that are posted to those positions don't have a background in the field, so you get average at best representing effective communication? Not many are willing take a step down from Corporate to Education level positions.

Anonymous said...

Keith W. Hurley , The PR department should be narrowed down to 1-2 at MOST. The value for that $2mm is minimal at best. MOST of the best communication parents receive from CMS comes out from the individual Schools and the (free) SLT/Parents along with staff design it. Mrs. Helms also hold CMS accountable with her reporting which is valuable. Mrs. Henry staff is usually inaccurate with the stories and a majority of the time the items let out are stale. The CO and Ann Helms cost to CMS is $0- and that to me is a value. END the CMS spin department by shrinking the budget to $100,000 annually.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Posting a story on Shelton Jefferies' departure from West Charlotte High. Maybe they should add "beating the blog commenters on announcing staff changes" to the next tally! Chalk up another one for you guys. Thanks, anonymi!

Anonymous said...

FYI

Recent building services senior staff meeting on Tuesday indicated that CMS is already looking forward to using the 18.5 million on construction projects instead of raises.....
It was stated in the meeting that this money could be used to shore up the new Stumptown ES, and the Pineville, McClintock and Bain replacement schools. That's why CMS BOE didn't want the restriction. They have no intention of giving us raises. Thank you to Guy Chamberlain on this one......

Anonymous said...

Goodbye Ericka E hyphen S. You are worthless and an embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

This whole department should be eliminated.

Theresa said...

Director Henry's PR budget needs to be cut 70%.