- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

The D.C. school system has awarded a no-bid contract for more than $250,000 to an Arlington consulting firm to “educate the public” about D.C. Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey’s upcoming master plan.

Citing a recommendation by Mr. Janey, the school board last month approved paying KSA-Plus Communications Inc. $257,611 to “write, edit, distribute and educate the public” on the master plan. Meanwhile, the D.C. school system has a “writer/editor” position and a “media strategist” on staff, according to 2005 pay records.

Mr. Janey’s master plan would include his ideas for closing or consolidating schools and partnering with outside management groups to help run low-performing schools, officials say. Mr. Janey is expected to deliver the master plan to the D.C. Board of Education later this month.

KSA’s contract runs through Jan. 31, according the board’s resolution.

The arrangement comes at a time of heightened scrutiny on the District’s no-bid contracting practices and on the city’s efforts to hire local firms rather than turning to companies outside the District.

Michelle Walker, chief of strategic planning and policy for the school system, said KSA got the contract because the firm had an excellent reputation, including experience assisting D.C. school officials with their strategic plan last year.

“Given the magnitude of this work, it’s not unheard of to engage somebody,” she said, referring to the decision to outsource the work.

Miss Walker also said the hiring isn’t a reflection on the school system’s internal communications staff, which she said has seen cutbacks in recent years.

Pay records show the school system has a “writer/editor” position within its internal communications staff. In addition, the school system has a “media strategist” position in the office of chief of staff. That job pays $90,277 in salary and benefits, 2005 records show.

Miss Walker said KSA is helping the school system in “packaging and marketing” the master plan. The plan will include input from recent community forums, staff workshops and other sources, she said.

KSA officials were not available for comment on the contract.

The master plan follows the release of Mr. Janey’s strategic plan last year. He also is expected to release in April a facilities master plan, which is expected to include a school-by-school breakdown of possible closings and consolidations.

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