DeKalb County School District officials said Superintendent Steve Green can approve vendor relationships so long as the relationship costs do not exceed $99,999. A contract recently approved with public relations firm Jackson Spalding could cost up to $150,000. AJC FILE PHOTO

DeKalb school chief hires PR firm without formal board OK

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green hired a local public relations firm last month for communications work at up to $150,000 without school board approval, despite district policy that contracts over $99,999 require it.

The initial three-month contract with Jackson Spalding also has options for annual extensions of up to $600,000 a year.

According to the board policy for purchasing, “Purchases or contracts with a total estimated cost of $100,000.00 or (more) shall be awarded through a written competitive sealed bid process to the lowest responsible, responsive bidder, or through a competitive request for proposal process where the offer deemed to be the most advantageous to the District may be selected.”

Several exceptions to the competitive bidding requirement include purchases deemed necessary because of an emergency, required services that are only available from one source and purchases made through contracts formally solicited by the state of Georgia.

District officials said Thursday Green can approve vendor relationships so long as the cost does not exceed $99,999. They did not answer a question about the fact that the contract could reach beyond that threshold.

“Consultants allow the district flexibility to provide support as needed and once new systems are put in place, the need will lessen,” district officials said.

According to the contract, the firm will provide the district with plans for strategic communications, community relations and “reactive media relations and issues response,” along with an “agency lead” working at the district’s Stone Mountain headquarters as needed two to three days a week. The Jackson Spalding team will work approximately 30 to 60 hours each week, the contract states.

According to the contract, the agency lead will be paid at a rate of $233.75 an hour. Others assigned to the district are paid at rates of at least $174 an hour.

DeKalb County Board of Education member Stan Jester said he was concerned that the contract should have come before the board because it could surpass the threshold for the superintendent to seek board approval.

“I’m struggling to see why the school district is spending $200 an hour on marketing and public relations when we can’t even pass along the governor’s $3,000 raise to teachers,” Jester said. “Our priorities need to be in the classroom and not on billboards.

“Perhaps if we spent the money in the classroom, we wouldn’t need to spend $200 an hour on marketing and public relations.”

The contract was effective April 15, the same day Superintendent Steve Green announced chief communications and community relations officer Eileen-Houston Stewart and Andre Riley, the district’s director of strategic communications and marketing, would be reassigned for the remainder of the school year in a division reorganization.

At that time, Green said the new plan supported “a more efficient and effective” communications effort as highlighted in the district’s strategic plan. He mentioned there that a consultant would be hired to assist with those plans.

Both Houston-Stewart’s and Riley’s hiring were met with controversy, overshadowed by their previous work relationships with Green. Houston-Stewart was brought to the district in 2016 as an interim chief communications and community relations officer, a newly created position that mirrored one she had held with Kansas City Public Schools when Green was superintendent there. She was one of three former Kansas City Public Schools employees brought in as interim appointments. A search firm had been tasked with finding permanent candidates, but Green hired his former employees for the full-time positions.

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