Flint, MI—Flint Schools Board of Education has extended the contract of its public relations firm, costing the district a total of $57,000, despite apprehension from some board members.

On Dec. 6, 2022, the Flint Community Schools (FCS) Board voted 4-3 to approve a contract extension for Lambert, Edwards and Associates, which was one of two bidders for providing public relations services for the district. 

Board members Michael Clack, Joyce Ellis-McNeal, Terae King Jr. and President Carol McIntosh voted yes. Board members Melody Relerford, Laura MacIntyre and Vice President Chris Del Morone voted no. 

The extended contract runs from Jan. 1, 2023 to June 30, 2023, and Lambert’s monthly fee will cost $9,500, or $57,000 total, from the district’s general fund.

The firm has been working with FCS for over half a decade, and its services include media relations, crisis communications, community engagement, social media and website management.

During the Dec. 6 meeting, multiple board members raised concerns about Lambert’s work, and more broadly, a public relations firm’s role in the district. 

MacIntyre said the district had better ways to spend its money than investing in a public relations firm’s services.

“There’s a lot of things that we need,” MacIntyre said. “And this is not, in my opinion, one of them.”

Clack questioned whether there were possible alternatives to a public relations firm, such as hiring interns from local higher education institutions. 

FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones said there were elements of the district’s public relations that could be handled by interns, but interns should not be managing tasks such as responding to media requests and crisis communications.

In a separate interview, Jones also noted that the district has explored the option of hiring a district staff member to handle public relations instead of relying on a third-party. 

“The reason that we shied away from it is because of the amount of work that this district has had as it pertains to [public relations],” he told Flint Beat.

During the board meetings, however, MacIntyre pointed out that the district had encountered “issues” with Lambert for years.

In example, she said when it comes to the firm’s role in managing the district’s website, “the deficits that had been noted on the website have rarely or even ever been fixed.”

Jones said that staff turnover at FCS has made it challenging for the district to liaise information with Lambert.

Since the assistant who was responsible for that duty is no longer with the district, Jones explained, another assistant is currently being trained to relay information to the public relations firm. 

“Not having that middle person to be able to work with Lambert causes others to believe this is Lambert’s issue, or this is Lambert’s fault or they should do more,” he said during the Board meeting.

As discussion wound down, Relerford explained her “no” vote by saying she didn’t think the district was “prepared for a public relation firm.”

Most board members who ultimately voted yes also acknowledged their reservations around the decision, but cited that there seemed to be too much risk for the district to do away with Lambert at present.

In the meantime, King encouraged the Board to seek solutions to the district’s public relations management before Lambert’s now-extended contract ends.

Nicholas is Flint Beat’s public health and education reporter. He joins the team as he graduates from Santa Clara University, Calif. Nicholas has previously reported on dementia and brain health, as...