Bedden wants to extend PR deal

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The public relations company hired last year to improve Richmond County school communications is hoping for a new $120,000 annual contract from the economically challenged school system.

In May, the system agreed to pay Florida-based Voss & Associates $10,000 a month during a one-year contract in

which Voss would provide a public relations director and implement recommendations it made in a communications audit.

The company updated school board members on its efforts during a presentation earlier this month. David Voss, the company's president, touted its success in shaping the image of Richmond County schools, citing exclusive arrangements with Augusta TV stations and a local parenting magazine .

Superintendent Dana Bedden says the contract is a good investment.

Outside consultants had recommended hiring a public information officer and put the cost at $120,000 for a salary and benefits. The Voss agreement provided that position and the company's expertise for the same price, he said.

"We are getting the resources that come with Mr. Voss' extensive experience and a staff person working directly in the office to be both proactive and responsive to the public and media," Dr. Bedden said in an e-mail. "We have gotten training for our administrators, proactive public engagement, etc."

Richmond County is the eighth-largest school system in Georgia. It has 10,000 more students than the next largest system in the area, Dr. Bedden said, and all others in the area

appear to have a public information office.

"To not have a (public information) office puts us back in the dark ages and relegates us to the system of old times, waiting for wrong and misinformation and/or inaccurate information to be shared, removes needed resources and training for our staff and moves us towards failure in getting the good news out about all the positive things our schools, staff, students, etc., are doing in Richmond County," Dr. Bedden said.

Two local TV stations have partnered with Richmond County schools. Last fall, WRDW-TV became involved in a partnership with the school system when it contracted with Connect with Kids, a national program providing positive news stories and tips for Richmond County parents. Connect with Kids in turn signed a deal with WRDW to exclusively air its programming, including a feature on the school system.

Earlier this month, the school system announced an arrangement with WAGT-TV for the station to exclusively broadcast a series of features called Be There, a program created by Voss & Associates that advocates parental involvement .

According to Voss employee Louis Svehla, who handles public relations for the school system, he will find stories from Richmond County parents and submit them only to WAGT for consideration. Only that station will have rights to use the Be There tag line. The deal extends to Metro Augusta Parent magazine, a partner with WAGT .

The school board signed off on the Be There campaign in May when approving the contract with Voss. The contract refers twice to the campaign, but it doesn't say how the campaign will be implemented.

During the Voss presentation, Alex Howard, the board 's vice president, asked whether all media outlets were given an equal shot at partnering with the school system. He also questioned how wise it is to form exclusive relationships.

Mr. Howard said such arrangements might damage the school system's image with the public and create friction between news outlets.

"My main concern is that we don't receive any backlash from any outside media," he said.

Mr. Voss defended the practice, saying everyone was given an opportunity and that these arrangements assure better exposure for Richmond County.

"Normally, as a media guy, you don't play favorites, especially when it comes to news," Mr. Voss said at the meeting. "If you partner with the media, you get guaranteed prime time slots."

The Augusta Chronicle was not approached about a partnership. Mr. Voss said the campaign was geared toward TV media. He contacted the newspaper about becoming involved last week.

Bob Steele, a nationally recognized expert on journalism ethics as the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values and a senior ethics faculty member of the Poynter Institute, said exclusive arrangements damage public trust in news organizations and government agencies.

"These agreements - they are really back room deals - raise ethical questions and erode the journalistic integrity of the news organization," Dr. Steele said.

The deals give residents every right to question the integrity and independence of journalists as watchdogs, he said.

In October, the month WRDW entered the Connect with Kids agreement, the TV station broke a news story about a sex scandal at Spirit Creek Middle School - a situation that continues to be under investigation, though several employees have quit or been dismissed.

After the station's newscast, more than one news outlet requested public records of the alleged incident. The WRDW reporter, who was the first to question school officials about inappropriate relationships among employees of Spirit Creek, was assured she would receive the records before they were made public to anyone else.

Mr. Svehla later admitted the arrangement, calling it bad judgment on his part.

WRDW President and General Manager John Ray said there has been no deal-making with the school system but acknowledged an arrangement through a third party to carry the Connect with Kids programming.

Board President Marion Barnes supports the work of Voss.

"I think we really got our money's worth out of the company," he said. "If we are able (to continue the contract), I think it's a necessary expense, but not to the detriment of instruction or personnel."

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (27) Add comment
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As It Is
2
Points
As It Is 02/28/09 - 03:06 am
0
0
Government InAction. Stop

Government InAction. Stop wasting taxpayers dollars on the consultants and this community certainly doesn't need a $120,000.00 per year PR person to disiminate the information of the BOE. This money would out three teachers in the classroom. All the public needs to hear from the school system is how they have improved the miserable graduation rates. When 50% of their students never even graduate and even less go to college they sure as hell don't need anyone doing PR for them as much as they need teachers.

karmakills123
12
Points
karmakills123 02/28/09 - 04:16 am
0
0
this is another stupid

this is another stupid move...........................

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 02/28/09 - 05:53 am
0
0
PR firm? What a waste of

PR firm?

What a waste of taxpayers money.

No_Longer_Amazed
5149
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 02/28/09 - 06:43 am
0
0
I always though Louis Svehla

I always though Louis Svehla was a RCBOE employee. Why is this the first time I have noticed that he is a Voss employee?

patriciathomas
44
Points
patriciathomas 02/28/09 - 06:47 am
0
0
Without the PR firm, the

Without the PR firm, the system loses focus and falls into the low communication pit that was exemplified by the Larke era. With more light shinned on the school system, the community has more input. With more light shinned on the system, more of the positive side is exposed and more of the positive side will exist.(the opposite is true when only the negative side is shown, as was the case previously) A stigma on the negative side will return if the system is steered in that direction. The money is well spent if it improves the environment of the schools. So far, that seems to be the primary contribution.

ColCo
1147
Points
ColCo 02/28/09 - 07:22 am
0
0
Nothing new about the

Nothing new about the programs at WRDW and WAGT, sponsorships like those are available at every station in the market, and if you bring an idea to them, and back it with enough potential revenue, the stations will produce it. Voss is not providing any service that any number of local agencies couldn't provide more efficiently and effectively. It's typical of Richmond County to send their business out of town before trying to do business at home.

lukeslywalker
0
Points
lukeslywalker 02/28/09 - 08:28 am
0
0
A waste of taxpayer money,

A waste of taxpayer money, public realitions firm for schools. I MUST throw the BULL SHIET flag on that one!

shockproof
0
Points
shockproof 02/28/09 - 08:42 am
0
0
If the media would back off

If the media would back off from BOE, they wouldn't need a PR person or persons and could get to the real business of educating students. It's like playing ring around the rosies.
Also, if administrative personel cannot speak for themselves and handle the matters appropriately, then the wrong people are working there. Where is common sense and intelligence?
save money, save money, save money....please!

ConsiderThis
0
Points
ConsiderThis 02/28/09 - 08:59 am
0
0
Please consider the following

Please consider the following unreported info: Voss and associates held focus groups with the community that included the media (Augusta Chronicle participated) and the participants recommended that an organization the size of RCBOE (one of the top five employers in the area with 5000 employees) could not effectively perform internal and external communications without a communications office. It is interesting also that no one has complained about the other school systems having a communications office. Why is it that RCBOE has to have less than smaller systems and people not realize that public engagement/commmunication is a part of education. In fact, did anyone notice the line that points out that RCBOE is getting a person working in the system and the firm's service (which include Mr. voss and his staff support) Absoutely amazing! Did anyone consider how much the print and media would actually cost in a difficult financial market. Could we get all the facts and not just react to the limited info the article presents. So much more that is not being reported.

christian134
2
Points
christian134 02/28/09 - 09:33 am
0
0
Wow Dr. Bedden I would like

Wow Dr. Bedden I would like to be considered for the contract of "public relations" which happens to be glorified words for "throw the money out in the street and burn it"...I will even cut you a deal on the bottom line...:-)

mad_max
1
Points
mad_max 02/28/09 - 10:46 am
0
0
This is typical step taken by

This is typical step taken by incompetents and criminals. When they are doing a terrible job and everyone knows it they hire a PR firm to try to take the heat off. Just where I want my tax payer dollars going. How about changing your image by cutting waste and actually educating these little heathens you are turning out of our school system. My perception of you would change tremendously if you could do that. Otherwise I recommend the taxpayers start paying attention to every action you take that wastes our money. It's time for a taxpayer revolt. We are not getting what we pay for. The law says they can take our money and we have no recourse but I think the taxpayer should be able to sue the board and the administrators for not performing their duties. PR firm my a**. For what we get for our money the board should be arrested for strong arm robbery. Taxpayars...take a long look at who you voted for on the school board and then ask yourself if you want that person managing your money for you. Do they have YOUR and your CHILDS interest at heart or did they run for the school board because of POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS or RACIALLY MOTIVATED REVENGE. I know which for at least one member.

ITDoc
1
Points
ITDoc 02/28/09 - 11:00 am
0
0
Dr. Bedden: I would be

Dr. Bedden: I would be thrilled to use my 25 years of public relations experience on behalf of your system for 2/3rds what you're paying an outside source. I believe hiring outside your system demonstrates to your citizenry the incompetence of the people inside the system. Your "public face" should be beyond public reproach, not criticized for being an outsider. The programs noted in the article are excellent steps.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 02/28/09 - 11:34 am
0
0
Don't we already have a

Don't we already have a spokesman and staff on the payroll? BTW I symphatize with Bedden about making things equal. My neighbor just got a brand new ranger boat and mine is 4 years old. Well I told the wife that if we live in the same neighborhood by golly I should have one also. She dosen't see it that way and instead wants a new SUV like Margaret down the street. She claims it is because the other women have one. So I guess the bottom line is, if the other school systems were buying their Supers a new Mercedes Limo, would that be justification enough for buying our guy one? You can bet our elected representatives would say yes, if bedden tells them to, after all don't they work for him??????

lukeslywalker
0
Points
lukeslywalker 02/28/09 - 01:54 pm
0
0
Bedden is just larke in a

Bedden is just larke in a different suit!

No_Longer_Amazed
5149
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 02/28/09 - 02:10 pm
0
0
disssman: See my 5:43.

disssman: See my 5:43. According to this article Svehla is a Voss employee and I (we) never realized it.

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 02/28/09 - 02:33 pm
0
0
voss & associates should be

voss & associates should be asked how important do they think that well spoken english is in a academic setting.

Craig Spinks
819
Points
Craig Spinks 02/28/09 - 02:43 pm
0
0
If the board of directors of

If the board of directors of the Coca-Cola company thinks PR is essential to the promotion of a liquid as unimportant as sugared, caffeinated water, how essential to the promotion of something as important as public education should a local BOE should PR?

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 02/28/09 - 02:45 pm
0
0
Voss and Associates:We

Voss and Associates:We understand that your firm is under contract to help the Richmond county,GA school system. We find it unacceptable that there are Richmond county teaching professionals who are not will spoken. Students need to be exposed to educators who use well spoken English. Please correct this basic problem.

Rozzie2003
5
Points
Rozzie2003 02/28/09 - 03:28 pm
0
0
Money well spent. The public

Money well spent. The public has been well informed uinder the leadrship of Dr. Bedden. Let's keep it going and move on.

TellTheLordThankYou
9
Points
TellTheLordThankYou 02/28/09 - 03:32 pm
0
0
Hiding in plain sight:"Louis

Hiding in plain sight:"Louis E. Svehla has been assigned as director of public information. In May, the board approved paying Voss & Associates $10,000 a month for a year to implement a communications plan, which includes hiring and training a public information director assigned solely to Richmond County." See it for youself at the following address;
http://augustachronicle.com/stories/062708/met_463631.shtml
The date is June 27, 2008. You didn't know because you weren't paying attention to the small print. What Dr. Bedden has done is provide the more than 50 RCSS principals a resource and valuable training so that they can get the message out about the positive accomplishments of their schools.

lukeslywalker
0
Points
lukeslywalker 02/28/09 - 03:44 pm
0
0
Positive accomplishments of

Positive accomplishments of rc schools???? Now that is laughable!

georgiastoryteller
0
Points
georgiastoryteller 02/28/09 - 03:57 pm
0
0
Yeah, Mr. Svela, you THINK it

Yeah, Mr. Svela, you THINK it was bad judgement to allow Ch 12 to have the records before anyone else? Who's paying you money under the table for that nonsense you've ALREADY falsely reported?? Now, if you could only report stuff CORRECTLY, you wouldn't embarrass yourself and the school system nor would you defame and slander its employees. This is prime fodder for a lawsuit. You have reported incorrect information to news stations and this newspaper previously. Heck, if I was getting paid that ABSURD salary, I'd make SURE my stuff was correct. That's why I say, don't always believe what you read or hear! Save that money we're paying him and use it for teachers instead. (I also agree with mad max. You have something there, my friend!)

ctrobins
0
Points
ctrobins 02/28/09 - 06:58 pm
0
0
Beiden, Lucy C Laney is a

Beiden, Lucy C Laney is a great school with a lot of history why are you trying to destroy history especially Black culture here in Augusta.. Laney is the best school in Augusta, we are not on the news, like other schools in this area, we haven't had any gun violence or any trouble since Dr Welcher been principal. The teachers are great, I have not had any problems with them. the principal is Kool too. a little strick but kool. I am proud to say I came from Laney High, I love and respect our history Lucy C Laney High and Dr Welcher.

ctrobins
0
Points
ctrobins 02/28/09 - 07:02 pm
0
0
Bedden or Beiden you don't

Bedden or Beiden you don't have a clue

factfinder
6
Points
factfinder 02/28/09 - 10:17 pm
0
0
Dr. Bedden could do a lot for

Dr. Bedden could do a lot for public relations himself if he would put down his black berry and communicate with members of the community as well as the employees of Richmond County Board of Education. Too many complaints about his not even speaking to employees that work in the board office. He is a superintendent of a school system, not a CEO of a fortune five hundred company. The same social strategies that work for leaders of good schools also work for good school district leaders. Public relations should be included in a superintendent and his/her assistant superintendents' job discription. Who knows better about the school district than the superintendent and his assistants. Straightforwardness goes a long way. I vote to get rid of the public relation firm, the taxpayers expect the superintendent and assistants to have the skills that are necessary to inform the public on the status of schools within the district and improvement plans. There is no research that supports school districtis with good public relations perform well due to the public relations firm.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 03/01/09 - 11:32 am
0
0
NLA as I said El Doctore has

NLA as I said El Doctore has a huge staff of elected people working for him and I still believe the people will do the right thing next election. I say that with a grin because most of the board members have been there since the bible was written and the populace in theis hick town wouldn't think about electing someone else.

lifelongresidient
1
Points
lifelongresidient 03/03/09 - 01:45 pm
0
0
if the definition of a "good

if the definition of a "good school" is consistant failure to pass the crct or graduateless than 40% of their senior class then i agree with you that laney is a "good school"...LOL

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