Monday, February 20, 2017

JPS: Spending money is not spending money

If you want to see how the JPS school board thinks, watch this school board discussion on the hiring of Eric Stringfellow that took place earlier this month.  The school board wants to hire Mr. Strinfellow as a "con-sultant" for $24,000 for four months. He will provide media services and "community engagement" under the terms of the contract.  Keep in mind that JPS already has two employees who handle "media relations" as "communications specialists".   Two school board members questioned the need for this contract but the interim superintendent and school board President defended hiring Mr. Stringfellow.  The Interim Superintendent even went so far as to say that this contract would not cost the district any money since it came from money saved through employee attrition.You can't make this up.  Watch for yourself.  A transcript is posted below.  Your record-setting property tax dollars in action. 

JPS will pay $6,000 per month from February to May.  The school board also approved a $10,000 consulting agreement for similar services last August.  The contract expired at the end of October.  Mr. Stringfellow provided an activities report (p.14 in documents posted below) on September 1 that gives a stirring account of his work on behalf of the children of Jackson Public Schools.  He lunched with the Bishop, went to receptions, wrote speeches, hobnobbed with the media, engaged in community outreach, and developed a message for JPS that addressed the notorious MDE audit.

JPS paid Mr. Strinfellow $6,000 on September 1 for his work in June, July, and August.   It paid him another $4,000 on September 21 for his work in August and September.  JPS paid him yet another $8,000 on December 14 for unspecified services. Earlier post with copy of contract.

 Kingfish note: $42,000 to a spin doctor, $750,000 for bond pimps, no-bid contracts, yet it's all the fault of charter schools.  Most state agencies only have one or two "communications specialists".   JPS only sends out a handful of press releases each week - if that many.  It produces a monthly newsletter.  The JPS attorney handles all public records requests.  If the two media relations employees can not handle these tasks, then perhaps JPS should fire them and hire some who can instead of engaging in a little bit of featherbedding.  What is really sad is that the interim Superintendent thinks that his contract will not cost JPS any money since it will come from so-called savings (24:35 in video).  Keep this in mind when JPS complains about being broke.

The sad part is that the few school board members who try to inject some financial responsibility into JPS get trashed and vulgarized on social media and certain radio stations. 


Joanne Sheperd (JPS Attorney): I'm sorry. We're on the approval of the consulting agreement, with um, Mr. Eric Stringfellow and Jackson Public Schools and that agreement or recommendation is to contract with Mr. Stringfellow to provide services to the district for it's initiative, uh, which is to rediscover JPS and of course the administration recommends Mr Stringfellow as a consultant. uh, to help in two big initiatives and that is the outsourcing of the transportation department, are, um buses and also to look at consolidation of schools, all schools in the district that might be recommended for closure or consolidation, the, uh, agreement calls for a compensation amount of twenty-four thousand dollars, um, and it also has some prevision in there that outline exactly, the scope of services such as, um, the grassroots community organization that will help the district get its message out and also, um, put before the district, um, media outlets to help out with this effort.

Kimberly Campbell : Um. Thank you, uh, Madam President. I'm trying to see how to begin. Help me get a better understanding as to why we really need this consultant for item. Is this going to be such a heavy lift that no one that's already employed in district, when it comes to media outlet and I guess, community work, can't pull this off?

Dr. Frederick Murray (Interim Superintendent): Um, well again, we're not bringing this forward as a duplication of services,uh, what we found is, uh, Mr. Stringfellow has worked with the district on a couple other occasions, the last time we had a school closure consolidation program and just recently, my first board meeting, there was, um, some conversation about the work that he was able to do with the last administration and the successful, the momentum that we had picked up in the community, so there were some positive things that happened and we wanted to continue that momentum. We have some major pieces that will be coming to you all in a few weeks. We talked about school consolidation study and school bus study that was a part of our cap and we think that would be a major piece that we would need additional support for. I think that what happens is we get kind of we're not clear on, well I'm not gonna say we're not clear but the organizational structure of the media relations department involved with, that's really two people and so you're talking about Sherwin Johnson and Mrs. Donald, and so in a day's, in one day, they can get a news situation at Forest Hill that would take up their entire day and so they're also participating in the, their assisting the board with the Superintendent search so these are all dynamics that are happening everyday when we talk about excluding consolidation or transport or some of the things that we're proposing, we need someone full-time, that can do that work in the community and again, when events happening on the weekends, at night requires overtime and so we don't have the staff to do everything that we need to do and we're not, again, its not a duplication of services, those things that that department and they will continue to do and they do that well, this is a specific project, again, we list multiple things on the contract but this is a specific focus, as for the cap, there's some of the things that we will be rolling out to the community, that will need every bodies attention and again, we just think, like every other department, that we have consultants, that provide support for a specific projects that we need help with, this is help, but this is no different and so that's why we make that recommendation.

Kimberly Campbell: Let me follow up, just briefly and quickly, because you brought up the issue about some past work and again this isn't disparaging anyone, in fact, I want you to state your case, I really do; but if I remember correctly, there were some differing opinions about past work and so I just wanted to be and to be fair to him too, I think the record needs to be clear, even for him, so let's just, put that out there. Explain to me exactly what did he do before that was gained all this great momentum for the district on the move with doing things.

Dr. Frederick Murray: Again, when I came into the seat, the board meeting, my first board meeting actually, the report came, there were some areas that we had not traditionally been in. I think there were and I can't quote all the places but there's been some meetings with economic development, we had then gotten the opportunity to meet with some influential people that we felt could help us and it was more of a grassroots approach, so those were the outcomes that occurred with the last time he was with the district prior to that, again, I'm not aware of any challenges that existed with the closure, you know it happened, you know, there was a community, I'm sure it was a community pushback on that but again, so from my understanding there has, the outcomes have been sufficient, according to the information that I had going into this. The need is that we're also, we're looking at right now, the media relation department is putting together a proposal to, for additional support to help us continue to brand our district and the goal of that department is to focus on internal and external communications, especially in the midst of what's happening now with the audit. We are bombarded daily with request for things so the need for support is there and as we move again into the conversation that you will be hearing about in the near future, there will be a need for someone to help us in the community to navigate this and this is the person that we recommended for that.

Beneta Burt (School Board President): One of the things that count to your question, Mr. Jones, one of the things that I recall because I guess I was in some of those meetings, it was, I would hear the business, some of the business people saying, "You know we didn't know what was going on inside Jackson Public Schools, we didn't know your Superintendent, we didn't know what he was thinking, we didn't know, we didn't know, we didn't know. And why do you not make sure that this person has access to all of our business community, to our churches, to people that we need support from, all over the city and sustained support?" The things that, that this body can not do, we all have other jobs and the things the media relations don't do because its kind of outside of the scope of what they're doing. Making sure that, there are appropriate articles in the paper that reflect the Superintendent's view and the school district's view, making sure that the difference of community organizations, both public and private sector, that there's access to. I think that these are just a few of the things, because I am always hearing people say you don't have a presence in the community from your chief executive officer, so I think that there is value in that I think that most everybody has this kind of person plus if we're going to think about having to make some major changes in terms of our school structure, whatever ends up being concerning transportation or looking at how our schools are situated, the number that we have in making any changes in that we're going to need somebody to help that process get pushed out to the community, in a way that keeps the community informed but also allows that process to go on in our media relations to continue doing the work that they are doing. Dr. Lind, Mr. Jones. Well, Mr. Jones and then Dr. Lind.

Jed Oppenheim: I have a question, too.

Beneta Burt: Okay.

Dr. Richard Lind: I just want to echo what you said. You just nailed it and one of pieces of the puzzle that you hear me say all the time is that, what good is it that we're doing what we're doing if we don't have a way of communicating to the public, as well as the parents or anybody else. What I saw, the last time we had him and I can only speak on what I saw, as results, is that he had a connection not just with the media but he had a connection with some of the other legislators and some of the other business community people who really, now we've probably seen some of the results of their relationship that they had, but I can tell you this, sooner or later, we're going to have to become excellent in how we communicate, whether we use what we have or have to bring somebody else in, at this point, we can't afford, not to have that, we have to become experts in how we communicate to the public, what we're doing and I just think that for me, based on what I've seen him do, here recently, when he was here before, I can tell you that I've seen some of the results because I've talked to some of the people, I've talked to some of the community people, and they were surprised to know, especially when we had those town hall meetings, they were surprised to hear some stuff and that's the kind of stuff we have to deal with. We have to continuously promote, we have to continuously be out there and let them know, where we are and where we stand, good or bad, we need to be able to do that and if we're going to do something now, now is the time, in my opinion, that we should do it.  (KF: Um, isn't that why you have a lobbyist?)

Beneta Burt: Mr. Jones

Rickey Jones: Thank you. To echo, my colleague, Mrs. Campbell, I agree, I think that we have four CEOs that are at schools representing their people and I feel that they are well healed so that they have met whatever qualifications they need to be in the industry, at least in my mind, they should be able to tell the story, we have another department that's purpose to tell our story, to get it out there and I think that's an excellent team. The question that I have, there were some concerns, Mrs Turner, at the end of his contract, that they had to discuss and so within that, my question is, have we gotten a statement from the state auditors office in reference to what's contract work compared to before, you know, as it relates to getting paid for work that was performed based on that thing we got caught up in.

Dorian Turner (Board Attorney): I don't think we have any statement from the state auditor, what we did was, we went to the board and had the board authorize filing a suit that would provide the order authorizing the payment to Mr. Stringfellow, for the services that he provided and the compensation that was not provided in his contract That would be to avoid getting anything from the state auditor because what you would have is that a contract that we do certain amount, he's going to be paid for certain services, Mr. Stringfellow exceeded that and the process of going and getting an amendment for the board to approve that additional compensation ad those additional services wasn't brought to the board for authorization before the work was provided, so in order for the board to be able to legally pay that, what we recommended, Mrs. Shepard and I, would do what you call a merit proceeding where you essentially go to court and you go to court and you say, this is what happened and you get a court order that authorizes the board to make that payment so that process Mrs Shepard followed that process and presumable it happened.

Rickey Jones: Ok, I guess my, thank you so much, I don't mean to cut you off Mrs. Shepard, I guess my question is, if you're performing work before a contract is signed, then where are we within that because I know we on everybody's eyes right now and I like clarity and for the sake of communication and positioning and where would that speak as it relates to how a contract person is brought on in terms of the work they've done before a contract was signed or whatever proceeds to be done, before.

Dorian Turner: Mrs. Shepard made an effort to specifically address that by putting some language in this contract that we both looked at that we essentially put in bold face and large type: here are the services that you were being retained to provide, this is the compensation that you will be paid, you will be paid no additional compensation and you should not provide any other services until you come before the board and get that approved, so with that situation happening the last time, we tried to head it off, by putting express language in the contract, that would put Mr. Stringfellow, administration, all the appropriate parties on notice about this, that this is what will have to happen before any additional services can be done or money could be paid to him, other than the compensation that has been laid out for you to see.

Rickey Jones: Ok, great, the other question is to, is as we look at some of the services, allegedly, that will be performed, we talked about, there's pieces in there, like, who wrote this, because some of the information in there, did not come before the board before we have a chance to get a preview of possible school closures or transportation, you know, and so we have not had a chance as a board to vet this, so its already been held before we get the information. I'm feeling kind of like I'm getting secondhand information before somebody outside the district, that kind of.

Dr. Frederick Murray: Well, the information was provided, through the cap, in the cap are, we specifically, because I'm on the record.

Rickey Jones: Ok, I'm going to break it down, again. If the board has not met, we have not been given information specifically about those particular items to, with information in terms of budgetary, in terms of enrollment, we have, that we can look at, as a board to discuss that move, not necessary with the cap because that's actually an item that puts us back in line but we're talking about procedural information that decisions have to be made on and if that information has been discussed with outside parties before the board pass it, then that would be second hand information.

Dr. Frederick Murray: Yes, sir. In the contract it expressly communicates that he will assist if approved by the Board of this will assist with school closure consolidation and the outsourcing study so, there is no, the Board would have to approve any closure or consolidation so that information will not be public or will not be irrelevant, unless the Board approves it. So again, we are in the midst of a study, which we expressly communicated in the audit, that we would do that, that we would study this and we would come back to the board with the recommendation so in that knowing that we're going to be making some recommendation then we will, he will not be privy to any information that the board is not privy to.

Dr. Richard Lind: Let me just say this, we go through this alot and we see these contracts, all the time, if we need to change how we are doing things, then let's do that but this is not the first time. This is how these these things. We get these contracts and we have time, sometimes we don't, I have to admit to that sometimes we don't ow time and sometime, quite frankly, its not at a convenient time for us because we don't have that time to bed but for the most part, I don't want us to get caught up because this is what's been happening for a while, that don't make it right but if we need to fix the process, let's fix the process and not just focus on just trying to fix one thing today but let's just fix the process and I agree Mr. Jones, we do need to look at how we're going to do these in the future so that this part of it can be clear and without doubt, so if we need to look at how we can make that happen then that's the process that I think we need to take, but to get, once it gets to the board, you know, we have two attorneys that we have to trust, that will look at this document and if somethings is wrong then we're paying them, we hold them accountable and that's the way it's suppose to happen in the real world but we need to make sure that by the time we get this that we would have had a process in place to make sure that if there's anything in here that don't need to be in here without the board approval, then that needs to happen.

Beneta Burt: And I.

Jed Oppenheimer: Question

Beneta Burt: Yes, Mr. Oppenheimer?

Jed Oppenheimer: Thank you. Miss. Campbell's remarks which reflected prior questions with a particular contract and I want to make clear that I don't have an issue with Mr. Stringfellow, its not an issue with the media PR folks but if we're giving this contract, we have now essentially paid for a full-time position for the whole year, which to me, we may as well have somebody on our staff who could do this. Secondly, if the issue is the fact that we're unable do it and its not a duplication of services, per se, then maybe what we need is some training support so that we can do because our biggest asset that's not being utilized here is our young people who can and very much do make alot of positive media regularly about what's going on positively in our schools. The other thing is, this is absolutely our responsibility as a board, this is a conversation that the board needs to be taking on in terms of going out into the community because that's our responsibility, that's why we're here, yeah we all have other jobs we also all signed up for this so that we are doing our responsibility to the community in which we serve which includes going out and being the base in the community, being the base in the district for these kinds of issues that arise. I don't remember all the circumstances of the last school consolidation, the reasoning or whatnot. I do remember quite a bit backfire and alot of that was because, from a community standpoint, that the board was not present, that it was just struck upon people and I know we're getting ahead of this, which is important but again, that should be us, as board members,  out talking to our community folk, working with folks, we had 50 folks in the board meeting the other night representing all different kinds of organizations, who as well will get involved and help lead this charge. I don't know why we keep going to consultants because what's happening is that we keep on giving them new contracts this is becoming a catch-all position at the control rather than after we systematize the work that he's doing or what the consultant doing that work would be doing and make this more about what we're supposed to be doing, that's not much of a question, but that's where alot of my frustration about this lies.

Beneta Burt: Well, thank you, Mr Oppenheimer. I see this as a different position, from what you just described, in terms of bringing that level of visibility to this district. I don't think that our students can do that, because I think we're talking about something different. I really don't think our CAOs can do it, it's outside the baby of their job description, there's no way that they can concentrate on this kind of project because it is something that needs to be done all the time and I think that this kind of person is going to provide additional support to administration that's gonna take some of that off the administration that is going to help the administration in the long term by being able to have these connections in the community that we don't have, no maybe we should have them, but we don't have them and excuse me, may I finish? So we don't have them and so in order to get them, then somebody has to do them, we as a board, yes we have our own connections in the community but Mr. Oppenheimer, we all have to do all sorts of things like not be here, we really need to have somebody doing something, we all have our own responsibilities and if our administration is saying this position helps the administration to function more efficiently, it seems to me that ought to be supportive of that..

Dr. Richard Lind: I'm not gone make a long comment, I just want to stress one thing, our job is to support the administration and if the administration ask for support in an area that he thinks that he needs then I think that we need to make sure that foremost that we support them and hold him accountable for the end results and then move on but I just wanted to make sure that we understand that our foremost important job is to make sure that we support the Superintendent and so that we can get what we're trying to get the end results for our children, that's the whole purpose. (Hmm....I've heard this before.... Enron, Worldcom....)

Dr. Frederick Murray: Can I add something? I'm sorry. And just from a cost standpoint, this is not additional funds, this is savings from positions we have not filled this year. So again, this is not additional money that we're pulling out from the budget, this is savings, again, from the positions we did not fill.  (This gave the inspiration for the headline of this post.  This quote from Dr. Murray says it all.  )

Camille Stutts Simms: I think, as board, we need to be clear, what we are asking of him. We need to be clear and as Mr. Jones said, we are really pre-thinking and pre-involving him into some things that we, as a board, has not even discussed yet and I think some of these things might be coming up in our work session but I would like to make sure that we can give him the directives based upon our needs at the current time and not get him involved with things that we have not clarified yet and we may need to, we do need to clarify them prior to going to public but there is certainly a need for our community, for our leaders, and for, even what Mrs. Miller brought forth today on the legislator's agenda. We do need someone to advocate for us, but, to me, I'm not comfortable right now with the scope that we're asking him to attend to and that seems to be, I'm just not clear on that and because we're asking him to do these things in terms of the scope, that we have not had the opportunity to discuss, so we do want to be supportive of the administration and getting our focus out, we do want our verbiage to be in sync that we're saying, the right thing, to the public, we're saying the right message and we have one voice and we don't want to have a scattered voice we need to have one voice that's going out from our administration so that is my opinion. I don't mind a contract but we do need to have some framework as to what Mr. Stringfellow will be doing and we need to have some sort of mechanism in cooperation that we're getting that one message out, at all times and not a scattered message but we do need a messenger or a message mechanism, to get our message forward out and the public did, I honestly believe, appreciated the district going out to the different wards and being able to see, touch, and ask those questions they don't get to ask at our board meetings so I think it was greatly appreciated and I'm sure the business community appreciated it too, as well as our elected leaders. So I think there is certainly an importance, we just need to make sure that the framework we're asking him to do is worded in such a way that we know what we're getting and we can give him the message.

Beneta Burt: Why don't we?

Dr. Richard Lind: Madam President, can I make a recommendation, it might be better since we're gonna be meeting next week, that we may pull this and make it part of our agenda in that work session so that we'll be more embedded because at the end of the day there could be some more points that we could make to put in this contract, to make it work for us, if we need to, so I would say.

Beneta Burt: is exactly what I was going to suggest, that we do that to develop such a framework and then we can determine how to move forward. Dr. Murray? Ok.


Kushland Unified School District said...

"Rediscover JPS"? "Brand" JPS?

I can hear it now. JPS isn't troubled. JPS isn't failing. It is the public perception of JPS at the core of JPS' problems.

Money Ain't Real If It Ain't Been Spent Yet.. said...

If the interim Superintendent (which means some group of people deemed him qualified to lead) thinks that spending $6000 a month for four months from budgeted unspent funds is a zero expense.....well, we know all we know about his appointment and the mentality of those who listen to him.

I would recommend that he be made permanent since he obviously fits right in with the normal dynamic of running this system.

Anonymous said...

Frederick Murray may not be smart enough to make it through UMC, Millsaps, or MC Law, but due to nepotism has managed to be top dog of Jackson's school district.

Nepotism at the top of JPS + half of JPS students having no home training = major problem for Jackson.

For real, if MDE takes over can they check all the JPS emails and online applications to see if people got passed up on a position due to nepotism?

Anonymous said...

Why is the state waiting. ? They need to take over JPS system NOW!!!!! The person's in charge are part of the problem!

Anonymous said...

Nepotism? Say it ain't so.

Anonymous said...

Someone explain "community engagement" to me please.

Anonymous said...

"Community engagement" : to arrange to be married to ones community. As in "I am gonna marry me a wealthy community so I will
get rich when the agreement is signed by the judge once we say " I do ".

Anonymous said...

Murray appears to be posturing as if he's won the permanent job. Reminds of the exhaustive nationwide search that resulted in Sam R. Hall.

Anonymous said...

JPS seems to have problems when it comes to prioritizing what is beneficial to the welfare of making the district competitive with surrounding districts. Wouldn't it be more important to use the $24.000.00 to send the Murrah High School choir to Los Angeles than to waste it on another consultant. JPS is already top heavy with too many CHIEFS and NOT enough practical decision makers that are working for the benefit of turning this district back around to the old standards. At this time, the schools need repairs, the buses need to be upgraded, the workers need raises, this is NOT the time to fatten the to pockets of a YES man!

Anonymous said...

Murray was interim, now he's extended interim and in short order they are going to make him permanent. Why? Because the board knows they won't be able to find a bonafide, qualified, track record proven Super worth their salt to step into the JPS cesspool.

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