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Clay schools hiring private PR firm for $5,000

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Updated: 4/29/2013 11:55 pm

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- It's money spent to help the Clay County school district improve its communications but some leaders say they were left in the dark on the plan.

Rachel Weseman is raising three boys in Clay County. The school's budget is always a concern for her family.

"I would say especially in this economy, every penny is being watched by everyone," said Weseman.

Some are criticizing how the school district is spending your taxpayer dollars.

Last week, Action News pressed Superintendent Charlie Van Zant about a $3,000 conference no one attended. He refused to answer our questions and now we've learned he wants to spend thousands more to improve school communications.

Reporter Ryan Smith obtained an invitation for local stakeholders to attend two focus group sessions hosted by a private public relations firm. The letter was released by the district's public relations officer, Darlene Mahla.

Action News also obtained the contract with Sarasota-based Voss & Associates. It's a two-month deal worth $5,000 plus travel expenses to perform a communications audit.

Clay County School Board chairwoman Carol Studdard tells Action News that the district should consider doing to work in-house at no additional cost to taxpayers.

"I don't know what their intent is and what they are hoping to gain."

Superintendent Charlie Van Zant didn't want to go on camera Monday. But his office sent us this statement. "Communications is a critical part of management for any large organization. As the largest employer in Clay County, our school district must communicate effectively, both internally and externally. We have retained the services of Voss & Associates, a communications company specializing in education, to conduct an audit so we can assess how we are communicating and then make recommendations for improvement. For example, we will use the information to improve communication to families, especially about our career academies, learn how to use social media, and how to communicate during crisis situations so citizens have immediate access to information. We need to improve internal communication as common core, teacher evaluation and other changes are implemented. The bottom line is we need parent and community support to improve our schools, and we need our own people to understand and effectively implement change. Neither of these things can happen without effective communication so we see this as a valuable tool directly tied to increasing student achievement."

With a plan in the works, Studdard says more needs to be done to keep all school leaders on the same page.

"I'm a bit dismayed that the school board wasn't aware of these focus groups that are being set up," said Studdard.

Those participating in the focus groups are scheduled to meet with David Voss, of Voss & Associates, May 9 and 10.





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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Action News Jacksonville

clay voice - 5/1/2013 11:37 AM
0 Votes
Voss & Associates had a contract with the Clay Schools in 2005-6. It was terminated after a bill of over $31,000 was run up. Included in their plan was how to spend a tax increase - that simply would not fly in Clay. Van Zant is spending good money (your tax money) to continue failed past attempts. This time 5 focus groups will be created. I wonder WHO will choose the "players" for this, and which friends, campaign supporters, and church members will be allowed to "focus" on our School's communications. (?)

NotSurprised - 4/30/2013 7:22 PM
0 Votes
You can't believe a thing Stuttered says. She's more involved than most think because no one goes to the meetings. VanZant isn't being given a chance at anything he does because he's not in the 'click' of the good ol' girls. Too bad Stuttered!

Truthseeker - 4/30/2013 4:36 AM
0 Votes
WOuldn't it be easier to just burn the money? What a waste!
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