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 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.
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.