School district starts PR campaign

Daniels Fund comes through with $150,000 for drive

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The same group that already has spent $680,000 to help the Douglas County School District defend its court-embattled voucher program has granted DCSD an additional $150,000 to launch a public relations campaign.

DCSD applied for the grant from the Daniels Fund, which supports K-12 education reform, among other causes.

The first in a series of television ads that will be shown on cable channels in Douglas County began airing in early December, with more following through February. The initial ad features Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen offering praise to teachers.

As part of the campaign, stories and information about the district also will be posted on its website, in electronic newsletters and other venues.

In conversations with DCSD officials, Daniels Fund spokesman Peter Droege said, “We felt this would be an appropriate campaign, and the district agreed.

“In the deliberations over the voucher issue, I think the quality of the schools in Douglas County may have been overlooked,” he said. “The idea of this campaign was to really just highlight the district as one of the most successful of the state. Our real focus is on the quality of the product being provided by Douglas County Schools.”

The voucher program, which the district calls the Choice Scholarship Program, allowed a limited number of Douglas County students to use public funds toward tuition at private schools. Launched in March 2011, it was halted in August by a Denver District Court judge. The case was appealed, and a decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals is pending.

The district also has been at the center of controversy because its long-standing agreement with the teachers’ union expired in July; 70 percent of the teachers belong to the Douglas County Federation. In response to that and other concerns, hundreds of teachers picketed the DCSD administration building earlier this year.

School board president John Carson said the district’s no longer focusing on those issues, and the ad campaign demonstrates that.

“We’ve got the best, highest performing school district in the state and we want people to know that,” he said. “But we’re not afraid to challenge ourselves to be better. There are some folks who want to wallow in the past, and we’ve moved on. Our kids deserve a school district that’s going to continue to challenge itself and not rest on its laurels.”

The $150,000 grant covers what Carson called the initial phase of a public relations effort.

“The ad campaign will continue,” he said. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest in the work we’re doing from various foundations. If we need more (funding), I don’t think we’ll have any trouble getting it.”

Though Fagen gave credit to teachers in the first ad, union president Brenda Smith said most of those teachers are unhappy with the district’s reform efforts and other actions.

“Their voices have been silenced,” she said.

In a recent email to union members, Smith described the campaign as “an effort to persuade the public that our school district is operating as usual,” and “to try to rescue a bad image.”

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