Sedalia 200 School District Board of Education considers hiring communications officer

February 27, 2012

The Sedalia 200 School District Board of Education discussed the possibility of creating a district communications officer position during its monthly meeting Monday night at Smith-Cotton High School.

After attending the Missouri School Board Association convention last year, board members asked Assistant Superintendent Brad Pollitt and Martin White, district instructional coach and mentor, to visit with Zac Rantz, communications coordinator for the Nixa School District. After Joplin was hit by a tornado May 22, Rantz helped with communications between the Joplin district and its students and parents, as well as with the crush of local and national media that came to cover the story.

Pollitt, White and Superintendent Harriet Wolfe stressed that they were not making a recommendation about whether to make such a hire, but rather providing information about the value such a position could bring to the district.

Pollitt said currently “a number of different people are in charge of a number of different parts of this job” in the Sedalia district. He also said in his position, Rantz handles all district communications, internal and external, which allows the superintendent to focus on administrative responsibilities.

White said he spoke with several districts in mid-Missouri and said about half have a communications professional; for some it is a full-time position, for others it is part-time. But he said the common denominator for schools with a communications person was a strong bond between the district and its community, city leadership and business owners.

Board member Jeff Redford said the district needs “to seriously take a look” at creating such a position. He said having that person serve on key local boards would strengthen bonds between the district and the community.

Board member David Wolf argued against adding another administrative position when building principals are asking for more teachers.

“We’re not Nixa; we don’t have that kind of money,” he said.

But board member Ken Coffelt countered Wolf, saying, “Communication is an integral part of our district. To move forward, we need a good communications person.”

Board President Scott Gardner said there are benefits to having “line officers” respond to inquiries rather than an information officer, but added that in his role in Joplin, Rantz allowed administrators and educators to focus on their jobs while he dealt with reaching the community and media.

Wolfe said in talking with other superintendents the contention basically was, “You say you can’t afford one, but you can’t afford not to have one if a crisis happens.”

The board expects to continue the discussion at a later meeting.

Also Monday, the board unanimously approved Vocational-Technical Education Enhancement Grant applications for Smith-Cotton High School’s business, industrial and marketing departments and for the junior high’s Family and Consumer Sciences Program.

The high school grant would be used to purchase new desktop and laptop computers, digital cameras, whiteboards and other items. This grant requires a 25 percent match of district funds for equipment and a 50 percent match for software purchases. Total cost is $143,901.30; the district would pay $43,685.65.

The junior high grant is a 50 percent match, so the district would pay $5,000 toward the $10,000 total to purchase a wide-screen projector, microwave ovens and other items.

Also Monday, the board:

• Approved the 2012-13 school year calendar, which is nearly identical to this year’s calendar.

• Approved the summer school program, which again is identical to what was provided last year.

• Heard a proposal from Assistant Superintendent Nancy Scott and Grace Kendrick, principal of the Pettis County Early Childhood Co-op, about increasing capacity for pre-schoolers at the co-op by shifting two Title I elementary positions to the co-op in support roles. Scott said the impact at the elementaries should be minimal because the two positions were just added this year, so the change would take the schools back to where they were a year ago. The need at the pre-school level is part of the district’s preparations for the conversion to Common Core assessments, they said.

• Approved combining the March work session and regular meeting on March 19 to allow district personnel to attend the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Distinction in Performance banquet on March 26 at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

• Was told by Pollitt that the electrical work at the junior high is on schedule, with bids to be presented to the board for consideration on April 9.