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More information about The Concordian plan

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, December 17th, 2010 at 11:21 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

My previous post about The Concordian newspaper’s desire to send its publication home with Mt. Diablo district students has drawn criticism on some local blogs.

I based the original post on a discussion between Superintendent Steven Lawrence and trustees at Tuesday night’s board meeting. Unfortunately, many details about the proposed deal were not discussed during the meeting and the staff report didn’t mention it at all.

During the discussion, neither Lawrence nor trustees mentioned The Concordian’s plan to share advertising revenues with the district. Their discussion also did not reveal that The Concordian wished to send its paper home only with elementary students.

Because of these omissions, I inadvertently made two errors in my original story, which I have since corrected. I initially asserted that the district would not be compensated as part of the deal and that the papers would be sent home with all students in the district.

I learned additional details about the plan via blog posts by The Concordian’s editor Andre Gensburger. In an attempt to verify his account, I asked the district to provide me with a copy of the letter Gensburger referenced in his blog post, which he called “an offer for discussion to see whether there was any interest and what the obstacles would be in order to make a formal proposal.”

Lawrence’s secretary told me today that the superintendent did not have such a letter. I followed up with a phone call and e-mail to Lawrence, asking for a copy of the letter.

I also asked to speak with Lawrence, so I could get a detailed explanation of The Concordian plan from him. He did not respond.

Because of this lack of information from the district, I am laying out the plan as outlined by Gensburger on his blog. I do not know whether this was spelled out in the letter he sent to the district or whether it was based on a conversation he had with district officials.

THE DEAL

The Concordian would devote a minimum of four pages in each issue to the district in an education section. The district would be given control over the content, with the ability to approve or reject it.

The district could use this free space to promote its schools, students and activities, including fundraisers. It could also recap board meetings for the public.

The Concordian would be willing to pay the district 25 to 50 percent of its gross advertising revenues from ads on these pages (and possibly other pages), which would likely consist of two one-eighth page ads per page for a total of eight ads that could reap as much as $4,000 per issue. If the district received 50 percent of this revenue, it could receive about $20,000 from 10 issues.

Although Gensburger optimistically suggested this money could be used for libraries or other programs, he did not state whether the district would be required to disclose how it would spend the money. On Tuesday, trustees allocated more than $100,000 for consultants, including $40,000 to pay unforeseen costs that exceeded a $25,000 contract originally approved for School Closure assistance.

The Concordian wants to send its papers home each month with every elementary student as “a more effective means of delivery” than leaving it in school offices and the district office, where people can pick it up if they want it. Since elementary students generally bring home papers from school once a week, Gensburger figured his monthly paper would be “just be one added item.”

He asserted that his distribution plan would not work with teens.

“You just cannot ask middle and high schoolers to take it home,” he wrote. “But they could get one from the office to do so.”

This plan would benefit current readers by exposing them to the district and “the good things that are going on on all levels,” Gensburger wrote.

The Concordian would be willing to adhere to guidelines preventing “abuse through advertising promoting alcohol, guns, drugs, sex –- anything that would be objectionable to a family audience.” The newspaper could also be wrapped in an envelope to shield students from seeing the content.

MOVING FORWARD

I am grateful to The Concordian for laying out the plan in much more detail than the school board did. It is unfortunate that these details were not revealed during the meeting in a written report.

I would also like to respond to some of the criticism regarding my original blog post.

I regret the initial inaccuracies and have attempted to correct them, based on the more detailed information that has since surfaced. My blog post was not an “attack.” It raised questions about the proposal and informed the public about concerns raised by Lawrence and the board.

I reviewed The Concordian to see if it included any ads for alcohol or restaurants that serve liquor because Board President Gary Eberhart and trustees Linda Mayo and Sherry Whitmarsh specifically addressed this issue in their discussion. In fact, Whitmarsh asked hypothetically, “What if there was an ad for Sherry’s Grill and Bar?”

I wrote that The Concordian ran an ad for Vinnie’s Bar and Grill simply to point out that Whitmarsh’s hypothetical question was reflected in reality.

Eberhart mentioned during the board meeting that Rocco’s Pizzeria in Walnut Creek also serves alcohol, but that Rocco is a staunch supporter of schools. This is true. I have great respect for Rocco and never suggested that such advertising should be banned.

The Concordian’s plan will be discussed at a future board meeting. I hope that all the details will be clearly explained, so that trustees and the public completely understand the nuances of the deal.

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  • Doctor J

    Do I have this straight ? The Concordian Editor says he sent a letter to MDUSD about revenue sharing and Lawrence denied getting the letter ? Was a copy of the letter shared with the Trustees ? Here we go again — who knew what and when did they know it ? Concordiangate. Maybe the new trustee’s will tell us the truth.

  • tharrington

    The editor of The Concordian states: “What I did was submit a letter with an offer for discussion to see whether there was any interest and what the obstacles would be in order to make a formal proposal.” He did not disclose the recipient of the letter.
    Since Lawrence brought the issue up at the board meeting, I assumed he had the letter. His secretary told me she asked Lawrence about this, but that Lawrence said he did not have any letter from The Concordian. She said she would try to find out if Eberhart had it.
    I don’t know if any trustees had it. I also don’t know who participated in the discussion between the district and The Concordian.
    If the district has such a letter, it should have been included in the staff report so that all trustees, as well as the public, would have a clearer idea of what is being proposed.

  • tharrington

    In response to a January editorial by The Concordian, I would like to point out that I did not write that the newspaper would receive subscription revenues. I wrote that The Concordian would receive the value of subscription revenues, without actually having to sell subscriptions, because students would deliver the papers.
    Also, it is our policy to correct inaccurate information online. I clearly informed readers that changes were made in my original post for this reason.

  • tharrington

    Here is the original letter from The Concordian outlining its plan, which I received after submitting a Public Records Act request to the district.

    It is undated, but notes that it was sent only to Trustee Gary Eberhart, rather than to the entire board, before the newly elected trustees were sworn in.

    It requests a January 2011 start date and estimates district revenues would total $5,000 per year, paid in monthly increments, but notes that the ad quantity or ad rates could increase, since advertisers “would want to reach families directly.” It places no conditions on how the district would spend the revenues.

    “Hi Gary,
    I’ve been meaning to fire this off your way for some time but things keep getting in the way. I wanted to know whether this idea (below) is something you think would be worthy to present to the Board, and if so the best way to get this going.
    The idea is simple:
    1) Generate positive PR for the MDUSD
    2) Generate revenue for some MDUSD programs
    1) For me the benefit is reaching a wider audience
    2) Having some solid content.
    Basically the plan is to have 4 pages (minimum) in each issue of The Concordian that is devoted to the MDUSD (public education). The content of the 4 pages (minimum one color page) would cover elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and what is happening at sites; featured students; recap of the Board Meetings, articles on things happening such as Solar Implementation, Budget issues etc, as well as listing any school or district fundraisers and commentaries. The content would be worked out ahead between us. you’ve had enough experience with me to know where I stand and my thoughts.
    I would sell advertising on each of the 4 (or more) pages that would not dominate more than a quarter page per page of content – likely small ad boxes. Of the advertising I would donate 20% of the revenue from those pages to the district – no conditions although it seems appropriate to direct it at certain programs in need of funds. The rest offsets the cost of added printing and layout design, payroll etc.
    There would be NO COST and NO WORKLOAD for the district. In return I would ask permission to have a copy of The Concordian sent home with each elementary school student (monthly) – we would deliver to the sites with district authorization to have teachers send home), and we would leave a stack at each middle and high school (since sending home would be less practical to enforce.)
    Any advertising would be in standard with decency, which we would do anyway. Certainly I am okay with having school district approval of those ads ahead of time if needed.
    I anticipate that the revenue from the ad on those 4 pages to be approximately $2500, so the district share at 20% would be about $500 per issue times ten issues a year, or $5000 per school year. This number can increase as the ad quantity or ad pages or ad rates increase – I forsee that advertisers would want to reach families directly. Each month The Concordian would cut a check to the district for the percentage amount generated. Easy enough to track that. I would like to build on this to get the cash amount higher, however I anticipate it taking a few months to get people familiar with the concept.
    Since The Concordian is very popular among readers, it seems to be an excellent vehicle to get information home. It would help promote the district in ways that the CCTimes cannot or won’t do, while also helping The Concordian directly reach many readers.
    I’d like to know if you think this to be a valid idea, and if so how you suggest that I proceed to get this approved? I would like to get things in motion if this is a valid suggestion. If so I would aim for a January 2011 start.
    Let me know your thoughts, questions, ideas and opinions when you get a chance. I have only sent this to you rather than across the board as a whole. It seems to be me that presenting it before the change over might make more sense, that is if you consider it worthwhile.
    I hope all is well with you. How’s the job coming along?
    Regards,
    Andre’”

  • anon

    not that it matters, but that “letter” looks like it was probably an email. I don’t have a problem with it. In fact when my kids were in elementary we got the Times home…. (this was years ago). SO what’s the big deal? What’s the Times (or your) problem with this?

  • tharrington

    I agree that it looks like an e-mail. However, the subject line, date and return address were left off in the copy I received.

    I am not saying that it is a “big deal” or a “problem.” I initially blogged about it because I was surprised the superintendent didn’t include any information about it in his written staff report, before engaging trustees in a discussion about it. Since the letter was only sent to Trustee Gary Eberhart, it’s unclear whether the other trustees knew about it.

  • Doctor J

    Isn’t the date important ? How about who the email was cc to ? Was there a response to the email ?

  • tharrington

    Yes, usually the date is included in a Public Records Act request, along with any other address information (such as cc’s).
    I don’t know if there was a written response, but some district officials did meet regarding the plan.

  • Alma (MGParent)

    Lots of information I didn’t have yet, good comparison. Thanks!