Tuesday, December 14, 2004

In another move destined to increase public consternation over the handling of school reform here in St. Louis, the school board voted to spend $60,000 to hire a public relations consultant,
"services included creating "a supportive environment for our recent reform efforts."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported the fact that the consultant company, Unicom ARC is headed by Ed Finkelstein a long-time ally of former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. who was one of the board members who voted to hire the consultant.

If that isn't interesting enough, Unicom ARC was investigate by the Board of Alderman in 2001 for not producing an ad campaign after spending several hundred thousand dollars. Unicom also recently helped pass a $70 million bond issue for the Hazelwood school district this past election.

The problem is not so much that there are long-standing connections between the company and one of the board members. This particular board member is a former mayor and this company has been working for major groups and governments around the metro area. The problem is that this is yet again another coat of paint on a broken down building.

No amount of message massaging and focus grouping will improve the quality of the public school system in St. Louis. The system is broken from the bottom to the top, starting with inadequate materials and space for students, right up to school board members who act worse than the kids they are attempting to help.

There have been positive steps taken, as well as faltering ones, yet to make such a move which the board has to know will infuriate the boards most vocal opponents makes little sense. In a situation in which even slight changes can provoke challenges that can slow any process down to a crawl, it is even more important to pick your battles carefully.

The board needs to focus on effecting positive change. There has been some progress, the recent edition of the Arch City Chronicle (print edition) has an article on a new attempt to make some changes to the curriculum that has drawn some praise. Progress is slight these days for the school board so any, even a little, is welcome. They should focus on more real world solutions than in covering their corporate communications.

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