Has your school district hired a professional public relations agency
for the purpose of enlisting community support,
particularly in pursuit of tax hikes and bond issues?
Are you surprised to learn this is becoming common?
- Start here: Spinmeisters Come To Town
This is our special report
on the issues of public relations and school districts,
with a particular focus on one such firm, UNICOM-ARC,
which has been hired by a number of
school districts in the
Chicago area, including
Adlai Stevenson HS D125,
Antioch Community HS D117,
Downers Grove D58,
DuPage HS D88,
Glenbard HS District 87,
Glen Ellyn D41,
Gurnee (Woodland) D50,
Highland Park D112,
Highland Park D113,
Hinsdale Township HS D86,
Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills D181,
Lake Park Community HS D108,
Lake Zurich D95,
Libertyville/Vernon Hills HS D128,
Lincolnshire-Prairie View D103,
Lockport Township D205,
Mt. Prospect D57,
North Palos D117,
Palatine Township HS D211,
Park Ridge-Niles D64,
Riverside-Brookfield HS D208,
Schiller Park D81,
Skokie (East Prairie) D73,
as well as in a number of school
districts downstate including
Belleville Township HS D201,
O'Fallon D203 (in St. Clair County),
- Here is a wonderful series of reports from the NSPRA
(National School Public Relations Association)
Conference, Minneapolis, July 9-11, 2001.
These were prepared by Mike Antonucci of the
Education Intelligence Agency, and
they are gems -- well-researched and in-depth, and fun to boot!
Report for July 9, 2001: Excerpt...
"No doubt you have a few questions about NSPRA and about why I am
here. First, I will venture a guess that many of you are unaware your school
districts employ public relations officers, or that there are enough of them
to have a national organization and a conference. I assure you there are over
1,000 school district public relations officers at this event, along with
some superintendents and other school officials."
Report for July 10, 2001: The EIA covers some of the main sessions
of the conference, including such eye-openers as how to appeal
to the "75 percent of the public have no children in the public schools",
a very revealing session on getting out the yes
vote in referendum campaigns
entitled "Getting Voter Approval the New Fail-Safe Way,"
and a watch-your-behind session named
"Communicating Proactively in Sensitive Situations."
Report for July 11, 2001: the EIA covers more NSPRA sessions, including
one called (no kidding) "'Bribing' Your Critics and Other Unusual
Community Involvement Strategies." There is a mention of why it is important
to involve real estate professionals in your education work.
Best of all, the EIA report includes the delicious names of a number
of sessions that could not be covered due to time constraints, including
"Dealing with Public Anger" and
"How to Outwit, Outplay and Outlast Our Critics".
- If you're trying to build community support to convince your school district to
restore academics and effective teaching methods, meet your opponent: the
National School Public Relations Association.
- There also exists an
Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association
or "INSPRA." INSPRA is active in offering instructional workshops like the following
to administrators in your Illinois school district:
October 15, 2004: Referendums: Setting Up for Winning Strategies
With today's financial realities, more school districts than ever
before are faced with winning public support for additional funds.
What you and your administration do now to lay down the proper
foundation can make or break important voter initiatives. What can
you do to put your district in the driver's seat? Who are your
strategic partners? Learn in this information-packed session how to
prepare for the inevitable referendum six to twenty-four months or
more ahead of the curve.
PR and the Public Schools;
Before announcing bad test scores, inspire community pride
by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, October 2001
How Schools "Manage" Parents, School Reform News, October 2001.
This is a review of the book Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle
for Control in American Education by Temple University history professor William Cutler.
The review starts by asking this compelling question:
"Why is it that parents who give a mediocre grade to public schools
in general almost invariably have a favorable impression of the
performance of their local public school?" The answer, continues the article, is
"Organized public relations programs have been an essential part of urban school
systems since the 1920s, with public school educators working systematically to
influence public opinion about their schools. Teacher colleges offer courses in
educational publicity and strategies for building local support."
Here is an additional review of Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle
for Control in American Education by William Cutler.
This review also starts with questions:
"Why aren't schools more responsive to parent and taxpayer
demands for improvement? ... Cutler shows
that schools and parents have been at odds for a very long
time. Instead of acting to fulfill the expectations of parents
and the public, the schools have historically sought to shape
and reshape the views of parents and the public to suit their
own ideas about education's aims and purposes.".
"Allowing the survey to be biased by a single group of 'influential'
people is not only more predictive, it also leads to a more
successful [tax hike] initiative."
- The mere act of conducting a survey in anticipation of a tax hike referendum
can be in itself a promotion for the tax hike. Read how:
Biased Survey Beats Unbiased For Influence
[editor's note: that's their title, not ours!]
by Bill Foster, Illinois School Board Journal, March/April 2006.
"... the process of building ownership in solutions and gaining
support for a referendum includes much more than a traditional
sampling survey. ... Traditionally, school districts have prepared
for referendums by surveying a small sample of the population
representative of the entire community. ... And as the rate of
referendums that fail continues to outpace those that pass, school
districts realize that this may not be the best approach to
understand the community's priorities.
Allowing the survey to be biased by a single group of 'influential'
people is not only more predictive, it also leads to a more
PR To The Rescue: District 186's Plan To Rebuild Credibility
by Pete Sherman, Illinois Times [Springfield, IL], June 26, 2003.
"Last year, when Springfield voters overwhelmingly rejected a
property-tax increase meant to benefit the public schools, District
186 officials began to realize they'd lost what little respect they
had in the community. ... In a case of understatement, a district
report earlier this year acknowledged, 'Public relations continue to
be a challenge.' Soon after taking office in May, the new school
board hired a PR firm. That company, Unicom-Arc ... will be paid
about $45,000 ... New board member Cindy Tate says she's met with
cynicism when telling constituents of the plan to hire the PR
consultant: 'Oh, another smoke and mirrors game?' ...
'Unicom-Arc is a very good, very professional, and very successful public relations
agency that focuses on the education industry,' says Kevin Killion,
director of Illinois Loop, an organization claiming more than 200
statewide members who support back-to-the-basics public education.
'Let's be clear: Unicom is a PR shop. They are in business to help
their clients achieve immediate goals, such as passing referenda.'"
Practical PR, llinois School Board Journal, July/August 2005.
Villa Park school district 45 is very happy with the results of an ambitious
public relations campaign:
"... this process helped assure that the board would proceed with the support of its stakeholders.
This was evidenced when the community supported a recent referendum
on the first try when it hadn't approved such a ballot measure in 17 years."
The vaguely disturbing banner shown here is called the
"Flag of Learning and Liberty",
and perhaps it is flying over your neighborhood school. This flag was designed
as a publicity device by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA)
which promotes it and sells it to schools. Each element has an assigned theme.
For example, the red stripe denotes "democratic way of life" while the blue stripe represents
a "strong system of education". Suitably, these are on the opposite edges of the flag.
- "We didn't want people stirring up emotions we're
afraid will make us lose control of the message."
-- Mary Louise Scheid,
director of the office of school and community relations for the Indianapolis
explaining why she uses a facilitated small group discussion
format for community meetings, rather than a panel with questions from the
audience (National School Public Relations Association Conference, 2001)
Schools, Teachers, Parents and the Community
For more information on the role, perspectives and involvement of teachers, parents and the community with schools, see these
other pages on our website: