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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What does the communications specialist do?

Question: Could someone please explain the position of Communications Specialist, what the responsibilities are and how much the tax payers are paying this person??? Thanks.

Answer: Three years ago the Board of Education made a commitment to transparency. Now, the area of communications is one where the BOE makes specific goals every year. Transparency requires a constant attention to all forms of communications by a professional communicator. Now, more than ever, our community expects this high level of communication and transparency.

The district contracts for communications services through HFM BOCES, in partnership with the Capital Region BOCES. Through this service, a communications specialist is assigned to our district to help us communicate with our community and staff in an open and timely manner about important news and information happening in our schools and district.

Our goal as a district is to be the first and best source of information about Broadalbin-Perth schools. In this “information age,” with no shortage of traditional and new media outlets creating ever-higher expectations for access to important information, this goal has become more critical than ever before. We are responsible for educating our community’s children, using taxpayer funds. Accordingly, we have the obligation to be accountable to the public—to report how we are doing in fulfilling this mission and to listen to the community’s concerns and priorities about the work we do.

Our communications specialist is responsible for producing (writing, editing, laying out, printing and distributing) all of the major district and school publications, including our district newsletter, school newsletters and the annual district calendar. In addition, she is working on a series of brochures about topics that affect our schools, such as the importance of literacy instruction.

She is responsible for community relations and serving as the “information station” for B-P, meaning that she answers public and new resident requests for information; maintains extensive background files; and plans for school district anniversary celebrations and special events. She manages the Patriot Plain Talk blog, ensuring timely responses to questions, and oversees the recently launched Broadalbin-Perth Central School District Facebook page. She handles all media relations, responding to reporter requests and soliciting coverage of school events, student achievements and other important district news. In addition, she is working in collaboration with the Grants & Development Service at Capital Region BOCES to provide “help desk” support to staff for grants.

Most importantly, our communications specialist has been indispensible in helping us seek much more public engagement and community involvement in our budget development and decision-making process. She developed and organizes our series of community roundtables, including the planning, logistics, publicity, development of materials and all of the information follow-up that occurs after the fact for both the board of education and the larger community. She also works on formal surveys of the community to generate input from a broader range of people.

Having someone whose responsibility it is to be constantly looking at the information we share with and ask for from our staff and community is invaluable to a public school district which depends on community support, parent involvement and staff commitment to thrive. Communications is part of everyone’s job in our district, but our communications specialist is the professional charged with the responsibility to manage it and make sure it is happening effectively to the benefit of our community and our students.

The cost for this service this year is $99,180. Because this is a BOCES service, we are reimbursed for about half of this amount by the state. In addition, because we contract with BOCES for this service rather than hiring a person to take on these duties, we are avoiding any “legacy” costs – i.e., health insurance and pension contributions.

Following the BOCES model, the Communications Service we subscribe to is a shared service. What this means for Broadalbin-Perth is that the communications specialist who works so closely with us is part of a larger team of experienced communications professionals, graphic artists, web designers and developers and print specialists who all assist in helping us provide our community with high-quality news and information. The benefits of this collaboration—such as the design of our new internal e-newsletters—come at no additional cost to the district.
-answered by Stephen Tomlinson, District Superintendent

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