Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more information about the communications department’s budget, almost half of which goes to interpretation and translation services.
The Denver school board has spent more than $100,000 this spring hiring outside firms to help with communications challenges, bypassing the district’s own $3.8 million, 32-employee communications department.
Working itself out of a pandemic, wrapping up a search for a new superintendent, and responding to controversy around one of its board members, the board entered into contracts with three different Denver-based public relations firms to help with the work, some of which normally falls under the purview of internal communications staff.
DPS Board President Carrie Olson said in an email the contracts are for “community engagement support for the board, related to … the superintendent search and the investigation related to allegations against [Tay] Anderson.”
For help with outreach during the superintendent search and with newly selected superintendent Alex Marrero’s onboarding, the board chose PowerMap Ltd. Another firm, Lisa Relou Consulting, signed on for three months to assist the communications department with the aftermath of superintendent search as well, but also to focus on more “general” matters like the return to in-person learning and schedule and bell time changes.
“We really wanted dedicated support given all the extra work coming,” Olson said in an interview.
That extra work comes amid an investigation of DPS board member Tay Anderson, who temporarily stepped away from the board last week amid sexual assault and harassment allegations against him.
Olson said the third firm to sign on with the district—Rockford Gray, LLC—is specifically dedicated to assisting the board during this investigation.
“As far as why we need external communications (on the Anderson situation),” Olson said, “it’s a board matter, not related to district staff.”
The DPS communications department has a budget of $3.8 million and a staff of 32 people, but payment for the public relations firms comes from the district’s general fund.
At $6,000 per month through the summer, and $3,000 per month through the fall, the district will pay PowerMap $39,000. The Lisa Relou contract, ending this month, tacks on another $54,000.
Rockford Gray’s assistance will cost DPS another $15,378. The three contracts total $108,378.
According to the DPS website, the communications department’s responsibilities include managing crisis response, translation and interpretation services, newsletters, the district’s website and social media, event coordination and requests for records under the Colorado Open Records Act.
Just under one half of the department budget goes to translation and interpretation services, according to Chief Communications Officer Michael Vaughn.