We want you to know about the PR firm that Mehlville School District has employed solely to raise your taxes. And guess what? YOU ARE PAYING FOR IT!
UNICOM-ARC is owed by Labor Tribune publisher Ed Finkelstein and is a partisan firm that represents Democrats, PUBLIC SCHOOLS and political subdivisions staffed by public sector unions.
In a description of itself that UNICOM-ARC posted on a directory of union shops (maintained by the Union Label & Service Trades Department of the AFL-CIO): "We are all-union communications and public relations firm that specializes in serving labor, non-profit and community-based organizations. Unicom-ARC is experienced in media outreach, planning campaign strategy and developing effective messages through focus groups and polling."
The bulk of their business comes from school districts who hire them for the explicit purpose of spiffing up their image as a prelude to passing tax hikes. (See below article, it will give you the scoop on what UNICOM-ARC is all about)
UNICOM-ARC was in charge (well over $100,000) of the Mehlville School District's COMPASS II public engagement meetings and is now in charge of the independent political campaign committee cramming Proposition C down our throats. Is there any conflict of interest here?
The taxpayers pay for all of the polling and bogus community organizing (COMPASS II) that UNICOM-ARC provides, then the firm uses that same information to run an independent political campaign. UNICOM-ARC gets paid twice. Once by the taxpayers and once by the pro-Proposition C political committee. Can you say corrupt?
We are getting robbed by a public education system that is run BY THE UNIONS, FOR THE UNIONS! What about the kids?
Be an informed citizen and click here for a Google search about UNICOM-ARC. You will discover a distinct pattern of operation for UNICOM-ARC. They predictably get 80% of their business through no bid contracts with heavily unionized school districts in Missouri and Illinois. Non-union PR firms need NOT apply to the Mehlville School District.
Read the below article about UNICOM-ARC from The Illinois Loop. Mehlville School District is wasting YOUR tax money to raise YOUR taxes. Its insane!
Spinmeisters Come To Town
by Kevin Killion
October 25, 2001
Schools Discover PR
A new element is being added to the battle between the education monopoly and education reformers. The same tool used by marketers to sell soap, tobacco, and automobiles is now being used to convince your neighbors that everything is just fine and dandy at the local school -- except that much more money is needed. Schools have discovered the world of public relations!
The residents in a community are usually first introduced to this new element when the district announces it has contracted with a "research company" hired (we are told) to conduct, tabulate and report a "community survey".
Even a casual observer might find it curious that a school district would look all the way to St. Louis, say, to find a research company, when there is no shortage of solid, credible market research companies in Chicago. After all, Chicago is the home of the American Marketing Association, and thousands of market research professionals work in this area.
As these "surveys" are done, parents might also find it a little odd that so little is asked in detail about what parents actually expect in curriculum, or what parents think about the curriculum or curriculum changes, how parents feel on such issues as phonics versus whole language, or how parents feel about the issue of endless "projects" versus substantive, coherent content.
The Agenda Behind "Community Surveys"
The formula behind a typical so-called "survey" behind a PR campaign for higher taxes was spelled out with great candor at one of the sessions at the 2001 conference of the NSPRA, the National School Public Relations Association. Yes, there IS such an organization, and by all measures it's growing rapidly.
At a session entitled "Getting Voter Approval the New Fail-Safe Way," a manager for one large school district and the PR head for a state school board association jointly shared their experiences in running hundreds of successful school levy and bond campaigns. This conference and this session was covered in reports by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency. Excerpted from his reports, here is what happened at that session:
Campbell and Magmer suggested an early survey of all potential voters in order to learn where they stand on the levy. The yes votes are noted and divided by how frequently they vote. The no votes are questioned further, to determine if emphasizing a particular aspect of the levy's purpose moves their vote to yes. If so, these people are also noted. Those who can't be moved ("Men over 60 are death on wheels for most measures," Campbell said) are discarded and never referenced again. This is crucial to what follows. ...
To read more, and for the full details on the NSPRA conference, see the links at the bottom of this page.
UNICOM-ARC: When Your District Needs Hired Guns
Here in the Chicago area and elsewhere in Illinois, one name that pops up frequently is that of "UNICOM-ARC". This St. Louis firm has been hired by school districts in the Chicago area, including Barrington D220, Carpentersville, Deerfield D109, Glenbard High School District 87, Glen Ellyn D41, Glenview D34, Gurnee (Woodland) D50, Gurnee D56, Highland Park, Kenilworth D38, Lake Zurich D95, Libertyville/Vernon Hills High School D128, Lockport Township D205, Mt. Prospect D57, Naperville D203, North Palos D117, Park Ridge-Niles D64, Roselle D108, St. Charles, Skokie D69, Skokie (East Prairie) D73, Wheaton-Warrenville D200, and Woodstock D200, as well as in a number of school districts downstate including Belvidere D100, Collinsville D10, Springfield D186, and O'Fallon Township in St. Clair County.
It's most revealing to do a little checking around on this "UNICOM-ARC" company.
Turns out that UNICOM-ARC is no run of the mill "research" company. In a description of itself that UNICOM-ARC posted on a directory of union shops (maintained by the Union Label & Service Trades Department of the AFL-CIO), they say,
We are all-union communications and public relations firm that specializes in serving labor, non-profit and community-based organizations. Unicom-ARC is experienced in media outreach, planning campaign strategy and developing effective messages through focus groups and polling ...
The bulk of their business comes from school districts who hire them for the explicit purpose of spiffing up their image as a prelude to passing tax hikes.
We can quickly realize that when a "community survey" is conducted, parents and teachers should NOT expect UNICOM-ARC to deliver an unbiased report on what the town really wants -- that's NOT what they were hired to do, and it's not what they do for a living.
Take a look for yourself: here is the UNICOM-ARC website.
Here is their own statement of what they do:
Since 1970, our INTEGRATED approach has helped the UNICOM•ARC team build an 80% "win" record in 118 election campaigns and develop a well-earned reputation for taking on difficult and complex issues and turning them into success stories.
This bit is revealing:
Using research as a guide we implement the most effective strategies to reach out to the target audience and build better understanding or awareness of an issue or product. This is best achieved by letting your audience "discover" firsthand the challenges you face or the advantages of your product or service, then engaging them in meaningful two-way dialog at a grassroots level.
(Note: the extremely revealing quotes above around the word "discover" are theirs, not mine.)
UNICOM-ARC's pride over the "accomplishments" of its head of their educational division is described this way:
Dan Burns, Executive Director of Education Communications, UNICOM•ARC
As the long-time Director of Communications and Planning for the Rockwood (MO) School District, Dan was widely regarded as one of the top school communicators in the nation. During his tenure there, the District passed 13 bond proposals totaling $240 million (including the largest school bond proposal ever passed in the St. Louis County area) and three successful operating levy increases.
Here, UNICOM-ARC is very proud of what they did in west suburban district 300:
In November 2000, UNICOM•ARC helped the District pass an $88 million bond issue (which required a 33-cent tax increase)... The campaign was preceded by a lengthy public engagement process, facilitied by UNICOM•ARC, in which more than 3,000 District residents participated in the creation of a the plan which was eventually approved by voters.
On the same page they also report winning awards at the recent conference of the NSPRA, the National School Public Relations Association. UNICOM-ARC presented one of the sessions at this spin-fest, and here is the official description of that session from the conference program book:
Promoting a facilities or operations plan created "top down" by district officials is becoming increasingly difficult. This session will outline a groundbreaking process to engage the public to "discover" the challenges you face, and then create and support a plan to meet your needs.
Again, the quotes around the word "discover" are theirs, not mine.
(For much more detail on the events of the NSPRA conference, follow the links near the bottom of this page to the reports from the Education Intelligence Agency.)
Of particular interest, take a look at UNICOM-ARC's web page on "case studies":
Community Unit District 300 in western suburban Chicago had lost three times in a row at the polls with plans to deal with explosive student growth and severely aging facilities. ... District 300 had to deal with a vigilant anti-tax group who opposed all ballot initiatives, along with a series of unpopular administrative decisions that led to a complete lack of trust of the District by the public. ... Utilizing UNICOM•ARC's award-winning model for public engagement, the newfound FACE Committee held planning meetings in every school building, brought in architects and financial planners, and created a new plan ... With the momentum from that process behind them, the FACE leaders then led the election campaign for an $88 million bond issue that residents approved in November 2000.
Paying for Your Brainwashing
Who is paying for all this spinmeistering on behalf of local districts? In many cases, it's the taxpayers, through their local school boards who claim that hiring of companies like UNICOM-ARC is for the purpose of "research" (which is legal) rather than political action (which is not). In other cases, it's a "community" group that fronts for a tax hike, soliciting "donations" from residents or local businesses.
It's interesting that as school districts and boards are squawking louder and louder about money (even in exceptionally well-larded districts), they see no problem with spending dough on public relations gimmickry rather than on engaging the community in honest discussions of the kinds of schools they want -- the kind of discussion that could lead to genuine community support.
More and more, the voters are wising up. In response, tax hike proponents are being more cautious in their PR efforts. From the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2002:
"You have to be real careful about looking too slick and too clean," [the co-chairman of a Naperville campaign] said. "You want it to be citizens selling the referendum to citizens. You don't want it to be Madison Avenue selling it. People get suspicious."
Even UNICOM-ARC is aware that there are limits to polished campaigns on behalf of skyrocketing tax hikes. From the Chicago Tribune, March 9, 2002:
"In more and more communities, there seems to be more opposition that is cropping up ... they are much more organized than they were 20 years ago. They are networked," said Rodney Wright, president of UNICOM/ARC...
Dear readers, welcome to the network!
How To Learn More About Schools and Public Relations
Here are some articles and links that will help you to learn more about how your tax dollars are being used to sell higher taxes and oddball innovations in your local schools:
* To learn about expenditures for specific PR companies (e.g., Unicom-ARC) or on behalf of pro-tax-hike organizations (e.g., "Save Our Schools", "Community Partnership for Education ") associated with school districts, go to the "Campaign Disclosure" section of the website of the Illinois State Board of Education. Expenditures can be searched in a variety of ways, though you may need to do some exploring to discover them all.
* National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA):
Here is a wonderful series of reports from the NSPRA Conference, Minneapolis, July 9-11, 2001 prepared by Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency. These are gems -- well-researched and in-depth, and fun to boot!
o Report for July 9, 2001: Excerpt...
"No doubt you have a few questions about NSPRA and about why I am here. First, I will venture a guess that many of you are unaware your school districts employ public relations officers, or that there are enough of them to have a national organization and a conference. I assure you there are over 1,000 school district public relations officers at this event, along with some superintendents and other school officials."
o Report for July 10, 2001: The EIA covers some of the main sessions of the conference, including such eye-openers as how to appeal to the "75 percent of the public have no children in the public schools", a very revealing session on getting out the yes vote in referendum campaigns entitled "Getting Voter Approval the New Fail-Safe Way," and a watch-your-behind session named "Communicating Proactively in Sensitive Situations."
o Report for July 11, 2001: the EIA covers more NSPRA sessions, including one called (no kidding) "'Bribing' Your Critics and Other Unusual Community Involvement Strategies." There is a mention of why it is important to involve real estate professionals in your education work. Best of all, the EIA report includes the delicious names of a number of sessions that could not be covered due to time constraints, including "Dealing with Public Anger" and "How to Outwit, Outplay and Outlast Our Critics".
* PR and the Public Schools; Before announcing bad test scores, inspire community pride by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, October 2001
* How Schools "Manage" Parents, School Reform News, October 2001. This is a review of the book Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education by Temple University history professor William Cutler. The review starts by asking this compelling question: "Why is it that parents who give a mediocre grade to public schools in general almost invariably have a favorable impression of the performance of their local public school?"
* Here is an additional review of Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education by William Cutler. This review also starts with questions: "Why aren't schools more responsive to parent and taxpayer demands for improvement? Is it because they are a monopoly and they just don't care? Is it because they are increasingly influenced by unions and put member interests ahead of the public interest? Or, is it, as the schools claim, because they can't do better given their resources? William Cutler's new book implicitly raises another possibility: Is it because they aren't making a good faith effort to change? If history is a guide, the answer is yes. Cutler shows that schools and parents have been at odds for a very long time. Instead of acting to fulfill the expectations of parents and the public, the schools have historically sought to shape and reshape the views of parents and the public to suit their own ideas about education's aims and purposes." Note: This review is also available as a PDF document.
Schools, Teachers, Parents and the Community
For more about public relations techniques used by school districts, go to this page: Illinois Loop: Schools and Public Relations
For more information on the role, perspectives and involvement of teachers, parents and the community with schools, see these additional pages on our website:
o Public Relations: Your school may have hired professional help in selling a change to your community
o PTAs, PTOs and Other Groups: Who does your PTA really represent?
o School Committees: Have you served on a school committee? Were you disappointed with the results? Read this!
o In-Service Workshops: What are the teachers doing when the kids have that day off?
o Parent Rights: What are your recourses when normal channels have let you down?
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