Board authorizes Noble to negotiate $22,000 video contract with UNICOM

By EVAN YOUNG

The Mehlville Board of Education recently approved one component of a potentially larger agreement with a communications firm to provide video production services for the second phase of the school district’s long-range improvement plan.

Board members voted 6-0 — Secretary Larry Felton abstained — to allow the superintendent to negotiate a $22,000 video production contract with UNICOM•ARC, which will help the district engage its residents for the second phase of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Once negotiated, the separate agreement won’t come back to the board for approval in the interest of moving production of the video forward, Superintendent Terry Noble told the Call.

Video services originally were included as part of a broader, potentially 15-month agreement with UNICOM•ARC for the second phase of COMPASS. The board, however, decided to allow Noble to negotiate a separate contract for UNICOM•ARC’s video services and will consider the rest of the agreement after receiving input from the communication advisory committee, Noble said.

Details about the video, which will be filmed and edited over the next two months, haven’t been finalized. How-ever, district officials estimate it will be roughly eight to 10 minutes in length and likely explain, among other topics, the second phase of COMPASS and the Hancock Amendment, a tax limitation in the Missouri Constitution that prevents taxing bodies — such as school districts — from raising tax rates on residents without their approval.

“Clearly, a lot of us sitting in the room see things differently than some people who don’t sit in the room, and we believe that a lot of it just has to do with giving people the proper information,” board member Micheal Ocello said Aug. 27.

“The video would be an effective way to communicate that … I think the video makes sense, especially considering how people live their lives today. They don’t have time to sit down and read about it.”

UNICOM•ARC will handle the majority of the video’s production, but will work with the COMPASS Facilitating Team and the district’s communication advisory and finance committees on the development of a script.

COMPASS began in 2007 as a public-engagement program, and numerous community-engagement sessions took place in 2007 and 2008 to gather residents’ input. After the COMPASS Facilitating Team — a collection of residents, administrators, employees, school-board members and students — whittled that community input into phased recommendations to improve the district, the team proposed two ballot measures.

In June 2008, the Facilitating Team recommended two ballot measures — a transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the debt-service fund to the operating fund — which later became Proposition T — and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

In the Nov. 4 election, Prop T was approved by more than 62 percent of voters. The measure transferred roughly 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund. It is expected to generate roughly $5.6 million annually for the operating fund.

However, the Board of Education rejected the Facilitating Team’s proposed 37-cent tax-rate increase after a July 2008 survey found that 59 percent of 400 participants would oppose it.

With the first phase of public-engagement recommendations put in motion last November, the Board of Education authorized the second phase in April. And while “COMPASS I” encouraged residents to participate in community-engagement sessions and provide input for district improvement, the goal of the second phase is to take the plan — also known as the “Shared Vision” — out to the community.

“In the past, with COMPASS I, we had the people come to us. The purpose of this video is to get it out to the people, and to take it to wherever we can take it …,” said Jim Schibig, co-chair of the Facilitating Team. “It’s a tool to communicate to the district, to the people of the community, where we are and what we need to do with the COMPASS plan.”

As for the rest of UNICOM•ARC’s proposed contract, the firm’s staff would provide the district with “creative, advisory, supervisory and collaborative” communications services throughout the second phase of COMPASS, according to a memo from Rod Wright and Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC.

The firm would help the district’s communications staff and Facilitating Team develop community engagement materials such as brochures, a Web site, speeches for a speakers’ bureau, articles for district publications and materials for the media.

As proposed, the district would pay UNICOM•ARC $4,000 a month for 11 months, or $44,000, with the option of a three-month extension should the COMPASS Facilitating Team recommend — and the Board of Education approve — a referendum for the November 2010 ballot following the completion of the second phase.

If the district extended the contract to the full 15 months, the total payment to UNICOM•ARC would increase to $60,000 besides the now-separate $22,000 video contract.

Once the second phase of COMPASS is completed, the district could ask UNICOM•ARC to conduct a “public opinion survey contrasting recommendations resulting from the engagement program with the opinions of the community at-large,” according to Wright and Burns’ memo.

UNICOM•ARC’s fee for the survey service, which isn’t included in the contract, would be $22,750 for a 500-sample survey and $6,000 for an e-mail staff survey.

The contract was scheduled to take effect Sept. 1, but Noble said the time frame will need adjusting in light of the board’s decision to delay approving the majority of the document.

Besides assisting with the first phase of COMPASS, UNICOM•ARC also contracted with Mehlville in 2000 for a public-engagement process that resulted in the development of a facilities master plan.

In August 2000, the Board of Education voted to accept the facilities master plan, which was placed on the November 2000 ballot as the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, and subsequently was approved by voters.

“We are excited with the prospects of once again working with the Mehlville School District on this project,” Wright and Burns wrote in the COMPASS II memo. “We are ready to roll our sleeves up and get to work.”