Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia spent $99,414.84 for a crisis management contractor from six months in 2020 to help it with “mitigating controversies” and protecting “the FCPS brand of being one of the best public school systems in the nation.”
Fairfax County Public Schools paid the firm $28,404.24 for June 2020, its monthly retainer for the rest of the year “doubled to account for the intensive work needed to initiate the project” and ready the school district’s “Back-to-School Plan” communications strategy.
The school district paid $14,202.12 monthly for another six months of services in July, August, September, October, November and December 2020.
One of its selling points was that “having many staff members as FCPS parents, we are prepared for the community…”
It said it would tap 65 staff members for the job.
- In its proposal, the school district said, “Our strategic communications will include plans for widely sharing this critical information, eliciting community input, and mitigating controversies or unforeseen circumstances.”
- The proposal said “our main value may be to serve as ‘another key’ viewing critical messages and deliverables from an outside perspective.”
- According to its balance sheets, included in the proposal, the company had $17.3 million in revenues in 2019, up from $16.1 million in 2018. Its net income rose to $912,575 in 2019 from $421,108 in 2018.
- “Yes& has also identified partners who can act as message multipliers and provided materials and messages that they can distribute through their channels, further amplifying client messages.” (page 9)
The staff included:
- Yes& chief executive officer Bob Sprague, an “avid train collector,” was “lead consultant” to K12 Inc. and Agora Cyber Charter School in Pennsylvania to help with a “suite of communications challenges,” from “poor test scores to teacher disengagement, legislative pressures, and leadership changes.” In 2019, the Washington Post published an article with the headline, “How big a mess is Pennsylvania’s charter school sector? This big,” telling the story of issues at Agora Cyber Charter School. As a proposal writer, he had generated “more than” $50 million in total revenue for the company, the proposal said.
- highlighted Mike Smith, senior vice president of public relations, an “avid 5k runner,” noting, “Mike is a ‘Washington Insider,’ with deep connections in national media and political circles.” What’s more, the father of graduates of Fairfax County Public Schools, including Chantilly High School, it noted that Smith worked with the Chantilly principal, Teresa Johnson, now the deputy superintendent, on “pioneering school-to-work pathways.”
According to documents revealed in the “TJ Papers,” on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, school board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer wasn’t satisfied with the media strategy over the controversial issue of changing admissions to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She sent an email to the Superintendent Brabrand, FCPS chief operating officer Marty Smith and chief communications officer John Torre, with the subject line, “TJ admissions and the media.” The communications were discovered as part of a lawsuit filed by Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of local northern Virginia parents in the Coalition for TJ (where I am a cofounder).
Sizemore Heizer wrote:
“…I think we need some strategic communication and stronger talking points around TJ admissions….”
“I suggest we frame it on increasing diversity through redefining merit rather than through just a lottery.”
She ended: “I respectfully suggest we do more to control the narrative….”
Torre had a solution: a “town hall.” Also, he said the school also had a communications contractor, Yes&, based in Alexandria, Virginia, “working on a more strategic response.” The communications consultant is run by a mostly-white staff.
- Fairfax Times, “FCPS spends tax dollars on PR firm, proposes social media surveillance.” Feb. 10, 2022.