20170724-bc-khsd-1

The Kern High School District Offices on Sundale Avenue in Bakersfield.

Henry A. Barrios/The Californian

Last August, Kern High School District trustees narrowly shot down a contract for $380,000 to hire a local public relations company.

I say narrowly because it was quite a battle on the board with former Trustee Chad Vegas famously stating that “Our PR sucks!” after a year of bad press over massive lawsuit losses and a burgeoning district police department scandal.

Anyhow, fast forward to today and the district has quietly added three new PR jobs to the one it already had.

Total cost for all four positions is about $310,000 a year.

And that’s just salaries.

Add in the bennies and taxpayers will actually be shelling out more than the $380,000 some trustees proposed spending last year.

I said last year, and I’ll say again, KHSD’s problem isn’t one of “messaging.”

It’s a lack of leadership, focus and accountability.

This latest lawsuit settlement is a perfect example, but we’ll get back to that.

Let's examine these PR jobs first.

In late spring of this year, the district advertised for “Supervising Administrator of School and Community Relations” for $120,000 a year.

The position already existed as a school community liaison. That person retired and the position was “restructured.”

Either way, the new PR position, apparently, oversees the existing communications department, which already has a PR person — Lisa Krch, who makes $98,000.

Despite Krch’s efforts, the already administrator-heavy district felt it needed yet another administrator.

Part of the new administrator’s duties were listed as developing and implementing a “comprehensive communications plan,” according to the job description.

That’s no easy task.

The new administrator would also coordinate answers to requests under the California Public Records Act.

Also complicated and requires a great deal of knowledge.

On July 1, KHSD promoted Megan Gregor into the new position.

Gregor started with the district in 2006 as an English teacher, then moved up the ranks, landing as assistant principal of administration at West High in 2014.

She may be a fine English teacher (and probably hates my often grammatically “creative” columns) but where exactly is her public relations expertise? Or her experience with the Public Records Act?

Seems to me like KHSD felt besieged by (very deserved) bad press and reflexively popped out a new administrator to “fix it.”

But wait, don’t answer yet.

The district is also advertising for two lower-level PR positions (each paying about $46,000 a year) mostly to handle photo/video/social media. Neither requires more than a high school diploma.

One of those positions would report to Gregor, the other would report to Support Services (activities and athletics).

That’s a lot of PR muscle, and a lot of taxpayer scratch, to “support a positive district image,” as Krch told The Californian in May about the new admin position.

It occurred to me in reporting this story that in all my years, I don’t recall going through a flack (the semi-unkind word journalists use to refer to PR people) to get information about the County of Kern.

Kern County government is huge and encompasses everything from waste management to a major hospital.

But when reporters need info, we go directly to the department heads, no middle man required.

KHSD is dwarfed by Kern County, so what’s it need all these flacks for?

I actually think it would be good for KHSD to get more stories about the great teachers and programs it has out to the public.

But my fear is the district is trying to create a wall with all these flacks to deflect legitimate questions and criticisms about how it operates.

Such as, the issue behind its latest lawsuit settlement for $675,000 in which the district was forced to acknowledge that it has disproportionately expelled and suspended black and Latino students.

Not by a little.

The numbers were stunning.

KHSD expelled 2,200 students in 2009, the highest of any district in the state, including those with more students, according to The Californian’s story. (That has since dropped to fewer than 70 expulsions in 2015.)

But at its height, KHSD was averaging 55 expulsions per 1,000 students. The national average was 1.5 expulsions per 1,000 students.

And, according to the lawsuit, Latino students were booted out of KHSD at a rate 350 percent higher than whites; black student expulsion rates were 600 percent more than those for whites.

The district’s response to the lawsuit was that it didn’t violate anyone’s civil rights and the suit was premature because the district had already started training staff that there are better ways to handle student behavior than hitting the auto-eject button.

Discriminatory expulsion practices, along with all of KHSD’s other foibles, are extremely serious issues.

As a taxpayer and someone who cares about education, I’d rather see the district deal with the facts no matter how harsh and fix problems, instead of having my money pay a bunch of people to “to support a positive district image.”

(4) comments

Concerncitizen

This article supports what any person with common sense, if they have been following the numerous scandals. We the public are absolutely outraged! Their job is to educate our children and based on the overall performance as a district that is questionable at best. It is clear that control and manipulation of public information continues to be their goal. That is an agency clearly run by Administrators that have things to hide and have no intention to change how the district is run. You know there has to be financial mismanagement along with clear years of violating students, employees and public civil rights. It is apparent its worse than what is being reported! Shaking down people, promotion decisions based on loyalty not qualifications seems to be the normal operating procedure. People that work on the lower levels if you are participating in illegal or unethical behaviors if I were you I would be prepared these administrators will not protect you. It is quite possible you will be the ones accused of the wrong doings. I work in private sector the term "CYA" is commonly used. I cannot even imagine the dark ugly secrets they are clearly trying to hide. Mismanagement such as this in the private sector world heads would roll and the CEO and management team would be let go. They still have not provided a report to the community how much the legal costs have been on the recent scandals? But again taxpayer it is not their money. I am frankly sad for our children in our community. I will also call out the KHSD board. What exactly is it that you do? Do you go over to the district office, to the school sites and talk to the staff off the record away from the administrators? There are wonderful hard working staff at these schools. Can they seriously not be disturbed by all these scandals? Are they not questioning that it is highly probable this admintration has consistently lied to them? Promoting an English teacher for a lead PR roll, an a teacher that rises the ranks to be an administrator that runs HR? In the private worked HR staff are hired based on expertise and education for that field. Microsoft Corp would not promote a software technician to run the entire HR department for their company. That they know would be a litigation nightmare. What the KHSD board should be doing is bring private sector consultants to analyze the Administrators and determine if they are truly qualified and are they performing their jobs legally? You were elected to provide oversite and accountability. Mr Vega stepping down was a good thing, seems there are more that need to do the same if they are not willing to recognize the ship is sinking because the captains are incompetent. Our community, our children suffer as a result.

jfrancais

KHSD gives out administrator positions as lifetime achievement awards...you don't have to be qualified as much as much as you have to be loyal. That's why we have the CLETS mess.

Concerncitizen

It is clear that those that have come forward to tell the public what is happening are most likely the ethical ones. More KHSD staff need to speak up and do the right thing out of fear of losing their jobs as well

Liberty4

Miss. Henry, I agree with you 100% with this article, the Kern High School District is corrupted, and I had a issue with them months ago. I've been involved with High School Football here since 2005 as a player, spectator, and coach, and the issue I had with them months ago, was which I was not aware of was when I was going to coach at Foothill this year, I was on the inactive list, last year I was at Liberty, before that at Independence, and because I was inactive, I had to do the process requirements by the District all over again, and because of it, I was not allowed to coach this year, I even went to every High School in the KHSD except Arvin and Kern Valley, I feel like I was set up by the District and wanted to file grievance against the District, because I always wanted to be a High School Football Coach all my life, Bryan Nixon is like a father to me and mentor, and when I was denied by both the District and all the other High School in Bakersfield, I was left heart broken. I think there is a lack of leadership in the District and I wish there was something done about it.

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