WARWICK, R.I. — Martin & Associates has spent the last 16 months behind the scenes at Warwick Public Schools, redesigning the district’s websites, writing press releases and acting as the district’s voice on social media at $70 per hour for $74,777 so far, according to school records.
About $43,000 of that figure has been spent on redesigning the district’s website, part of a project expected to cost a total of $75,000.
The cost of hiring the firm has been the subject of public criticism since it won the bid Warwick Schools sent out Nov. 5, 2015. The bid closed 14 days later on Nov. 19, netting the Upton, MA based PR company as the only taker, according to invoices and memos obtained from the Warwick School Department by WarwickPost.com following a public records request.
When the Warwick School Committee announced plans to send layoff notices to 31 teachers May 9 (a routine part of the school budget process, which must plan its budget in advance of knowing what the city budget hearings will give schools), Warwick Teachers Union (WTU) President Darlene Netcoh referenced Martin & Associates as a source of waste in the school system.
“If the Warwick School Committee is concerned about level-funding from the Warwick City Council, then before they lay off teachers, they need to excise superfluous parts of the budget that do not directly impact students’ instruction, such as the costly and always-expanding central administration, the public relations firm, and the law firm to which the district has paid approximately a half of a million dollars,” Netcoh said at the meeting.
This week, Stephanie Shelton, member and president elect of the Norwood PTA, criticized the expense of using the PR firm, among other grievances she and fellow parents have with school leaders’ priorities.
“We need books, we need capital improvements and we need teachers. We do not need a PR firm, we do not need attorneys, and we don’t need more administrators. We need to fix Warwick schools,” Shelton said during a parents’ picket of City Hall.
The School Department’s FY17 budget allocated $40,000 for website development (page 34), and a Dec. 5, 2016 memo to Superintendent Phil Thornton from School Finance Director Anthony Ferrucci states the contract awarded to the firm for overhauling the district’s websites for FY17 weighed in at $50,000. The memo also estimates the total cost will not exceed $75,000, with the balance paid in FY18.
The new websites are scheduled for completion in September of 2017, according to the Dec. 5, 2016 memo, and will include two high school websites, two junior high sites, 16 elementary school websites and the district website.
To date, invoices show Martin & Associates has spent about 617 hours on the website redesign, at $70 per hour for $43,242.50. The PR firm has also spent three hours and $210 on crisis management response. Social media work is mixed in among estimates of hours spent on phone calls, emails, and texts billed to the school department.
For a look at the School Department records concerning Martin & Associates, please consult the PDF files embedded below:Martin & Assoc. Billable work 2015 - 2016
Martin & Assoc. Billable work summary 2017
Martin & Assoc. Billable work detail 2017
Martin & Assoc. Web Design Proposal
Martin & Assoc. Bid & Bios
Martin & Assoc. Contract Award