Twenty teachers in Hoboken, New Jersey could be out of jobs if the city’s Board of Education doesn’t find a way to pay their salaries out of a $56.3 million annual budget. At least one of those teachers could be spared the unemployment line if the Board wised up, took the $75,000 allocated for public relations spending and put it back into the general budget.
I realize it’s sacrilegious to suggest that an organization not spend money on public relations, but when it comes to our country’s long-suffering public schools, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.
According to The Hudson Reporter, the Hoboken Board of Education formerly budgeted $40,000 to $60,000 per year to hire a public relations firm. This is roughly the same range that my own company – based in New Jersey, privately held and profitable – was asked for when we examined hiring a PR firm. Last year, the BOE decided not to hand out a PR contract. Things, however, have apparently changed.
Proponents of the expenditure say that Hoboken’s city schools are losing students to private schools, which in turn decreases the amount of federal funding the system receives.
“There’s an accurate perception that the good things going on in the schools are not getting out there,” said district Superintendent Jack Raslowsky.
Opponents of the proposed contract say the money could be better spent.
“You had board members who sat up there and said that they would save every teacher,” Board President Theresa Minutillo said. “So do you pay $75,000 for a contract, or do you save teachers?”
Meanwhile, some BOE members are taking the middle ground. “My suggestion was to find someone [in-house] to do it part-time and pay them a stipend,” said Board member Carmelo Garcia said. “Before we can look at the line item in the budget for public relations, we need to look at how we’re going to save our teachers.”
(I won’t get into the apparent squabbling between two rival public relations professionals, one of whom had the contract previously and has offered to do the job for free, and the other who wants it and says his “generous” rival merely wants to deny him the contract.)
It’s a sad state of affairs when a school district has to decide between hiring a public relations firm and keeping teachers. Regardless of the reasoning behind hiring the firm, I can’t in good conscious argue that paying $75,000 to a public relations firm while laying off teachers makes any sense.
What the Hoboken BOE needs is a public relations professional – preferably someone with no previous connection to the Board – to come in and work pro bono. This is where you come in, though perhaps not specifically in Hoboken.
Over the past few years, I’ve read an unusually large amount of stories dealing with school districts and public relations contract. Typically, the stories cover the same ground: Why are they spending the money on public relations when it is clearly needed elsewhere? The justifications and arguments are usually the same, though the resolutions seem to split down the middle.
It’s rare, however, that I read about a public relations firm or professional stepping in to offer services for free. I’m sure it does happen, and shame on the local media for not giving those firms some recognition. Still, I fear that it does not happen enough.
I’m a product of public schools and I was lucky to have come from a well-funded school system. I know, however, that students in New York City Public Schools are not so lucky. That’s why this year, as I’ve done in the past, I’m working as judge for ThinkQuest New York, an organization that runs an annual educational website design contest for city public school kids. It’s also why for years I’ve written press releases and other documentation free of charge for non-profits, public schools and other organizations with financial constraints.
It’s not as if I’m some great Samaritan; everyday people do bigger and better things without financial compensation or public acknowledgment. I just recognize I have some skills that I can use to the benefit of others.
I think it’s important that public relations professionals utilize their skills to help organizations in need – not just themselves and their paying clients. Public school systems looking to spend money on public relations would most likely be grateful if a public relations offered to help formulate and implement a PR plan, or simply utilize their media connections to build bridges. And taxpayers would know that their money is being spent on teachers, supplies and necessities.
One of the keys to being a good corporate citizen is giving back, and it’s something that I believe more public relations firms – big and small – should do. The reward far outweighs any risk, and the costs are typically negligible. All you have to do is to get employees and employers to buy into the idea that the special skills of a public relations professional can be used towards a greater good. You can use a little PR magic to help make that happen.
This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.