The Fresno Unified School District board on Wednesday rejected a $30,000 contract with a San Francisco consulting firm to provide public information services for the district’s $325 million bond measure that’s on the March 3 ballot.
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The contract was defeated on a 2-3 vote, with new board president Keshia Thomas and outgoing board president Claudia Casares voting yes and trustees Valerie Davis, Carol Mills, and Terry Slatic voting no. Trustee Veva Islas was absent from the meeting, and trustee Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas was absent for the vote, although she was on the dais earlier in the meeting and then returned later.
Davis and Mills said they had a number of concerns about the proposed contract, such as why the district was considering hiring an out-of-town consultant instead of someone local. Mills said she had recommended a local firm that had provided similar services for another education agency, but no one from Fresno Unified ever contacted that company.
Did Contract Violate FPPC Rules?
Mills said the contract appeared to include the use of electronic media, which she said the Fair Political Practices Commission has deemed off-limits, even for strictly informational campaigns.
“If that is included in the contract, it tells me these folks are not familiar with the FPPC’s regulations,” she said.
Davis asked why the bond measure’s information services couldn’t be provided by the district’s communications staffers. She noted that the district would be the source of Measure M content information provided to the consultant to produce flyers and brochures, and added, “I don’t see why we would spend on someone else to do our own work.”
District staffers are already tasked with other communications projects, such as the upcoming Local Control and Accountability Plan meetings, and would be hard-pressed to provide the information services needed to educate voters about Measure M, said Karin Temple, the district’s chief operations officer.
Firm Is Experienced, Vetted
The proposed consultant, TBWBH, would provide a cohesive information strategy while understanding the distinction between public information and advocacy, Temple said. The firm was recommended by both the district’s bond counsel and bond survey consultant, and it has worked on more than 430 successful public agency funding measures, she said.
State law allows districts to use public money to provide information about bond measures but prohibits using it for advocacy efforts.
TBWBH has the resources, know-how, and availability to provide the needed services, Temple said. And because “we have a great deal of work to do very quickly, in the next six weeks, to make sure the community fully understands the district’s need for funding and what Measure M will provide, we are recommending them as the firm to do that work,” she said.
Not Enough Time
Thomas and Casares both acknowledged the tight time frame and asked to have such proposals come to the board earlier in the future. “If we could agree, moving forward, we would prefer not to be put in a corner like this,” Casares said. “Let’s think ahead of time, because we don’t appreciate as trustees to be put in that position, having to make a snap decision.”
On Thursday, GV Wire asked Mills why Fresno Unified seems to be so far behind the curve on its bond measure when compared to Clovis and Central unifieds. Unlike Clovis, she said, Fresno does not have bond measure practices and protocols already in place, “and I think we need to work on that.”
Mills noted that Fresno Unified would have had more time for education and advocacy if the board had opted to put Measure M on the November ballot instead of the March ballot. March’s ballot also will contain the 2020 Proposition 13, a statewide measure to raise $15 billion for new facilities at K-12 schools and CSU and UC campuses.
Clovis and Central both had earlier starts to their bond measure efforts, with surveys, citizens committee meetings, and other activities held in time for the boards of both districts to vote in October to put bond measures on the March ballot. Fresno, which was still conducting its second survey that month, voted in November to put a $325 million bond measure on the ballot.
Clovis Information Effort Started Early
Earlier this year, Clovis added an informational section to the district’s website about the types of projects that would be built, the progress of its citizens advisory committee, and the potential impact of a new bond measure on the local property tax rate (the $408 million measure would increase rates from $155 to $179 per $100,000 of assessed value).
To advocate for Clovis’ new Measure A and Central’s new Measure C (both districts previously had measures with the same letters), volunteers have formed independent political committees.
Citizens for the Future of Clovis Schools has two honorary chairwomen — Lisa Smittcamp, Fresno County district attorney, and Lynne Ashbeck, Clovis city councilmember — a website, yes4clovisunified.org, and as of Thursday had raised $135,000, according to campaign finance records.
Central’s advocacy committee is Citizens for Central Schools Yes on Measure C 2020, Superintendent Andy Alvarado said.
Advocacy efforts, which will include fundraising, will launch in the new year. Alvarado said $50,000 was raised to advocate for the district’s last bond measure, the 2016 Measure C. The new Measure C would raise $120 million for Central school construction.
No Advocacy Planned for Fresno Bond Measure
No efforts have been undertaken yet for an advocacy campaign for Measure M, said Amy Idsvoog, spokeswoman for Fresno Unified. “Billboards, yard signs, etc. are typically coordinated by outside independent committees, and at current, there are no plans for an independent political committee,” she said by email.