Superintendent and school board president refuse to answer questions on videos; recent flash mob video cost over $21,500
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor; Miriam Raftery, Editor, also contributed to this report.
Photo: Superintendent David Miyashiro in CVUSD flash mob video
Update: Shortly after publication of this report, the CVUSD belatedly responded to ECM's California Public Records Act requst for documentation of any financial or enrollment benefits received by the district due to its promotional videos on YouTube. Naomie Rodrigues sent an e-mail advising that that "NO SUCH DOCUMENTS EXIST" but noted that some videos were published on the County Department of Education's website. View our article on her reply and the district's lagging responses to other records requests.
October 16, 2019 (El Cajon) -- The internet has revolutionized video marketing. From small businesses to government agencies, organizations can now harness resources at YouTube and other online portals to directly market messages to a target audience.
The Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) has utilized its Youtube channel and other social media portals to disseminate professionally produced video marketing and promotional messages for its school projects and World of Work career path program.
Utilizing taxpayer money, the district has produced and promoted impressive videos such as “A Day in the Life of a Cajon Valley Bus Driver,” “Education and business leaders from Vista and Colorado tour Cajon Valley,” an invitation to a Grandparents Day event, Fall Festivals, Madison Avenue Elementary Lemonade Fundraiser, and numerous WoW (World of Work) videos. The District also produces a monthly “broadcast” with news and events directed to school personnel and staff.
But critics say the CVUSD is making too much of a good thing, since these videos produced by the district have come with a high price tag.
According to information provided to East County Magazine by the CVUSD in response to a public records request, from July 2014 (when David Miyashiro became Superintendent) through June 30, 2019, the district has spent over half a million dollars -- $576,289.60 to be exact -- on marketing and promotional videos.
This doesn’t county any money that may have been spent on videos for other purposes, such as any educational videos shown in classrooms.
Payments were made to several video producers including Ron Cook Media, Target River, Seal Media Productions, Vendela Media/Vendela Media, Fefifo Films LLC, C.C. Baxter Films, Media Arts Center, and the San Diego County Office Education EdTech Productions.
View spreadsheet: Videography Expenses 2014-2019.pdf
If CVUSD’s monetary expenditures on the videos were not troublesome enough at first glance, a survey of the district’s videos on YouTube finds that many of the videos have had limited viewings.
In all, as of Oct.15, the CVUSD has produced and uploaded 194 videos to YouTube. In terms of viewership, some videos have had as few as 22 views, but most averaging some 150-250 views.
Ron Cook Media, whose owners, Karen and Ron Cook, recently had a portable building named “The Karen and Ron Cook Studio” established at Flying Hills Elementary School by District Superintendent, David Miyashiro, EdD. (Photo, right, via CVUSD Facebook page) Until recently, the banner was hung outside of the building.
Cook initially objected to being asked by ECM about how the space was being utilized, but later said that the building was named and dedicated to the Cooks due to their “generous donations to the district.”
Most recently, the district received grand kudos for a “flash mob” video (photo, left) celebrating the beginning of a new school year and with it some 64,075 views, substantially higher than other videos.
The video brought positive attention to the district from several local television stations.
It also elicited many positive remarks on its Facebook page: “Great job! Here's to a great 2019-2020 school year!”, “CVUSD ROCKS!!! What an awesome community. Makes me want to move to Cajon Valley!!!”, This is so cool, it almost makes me want to come out of retirement so I can take part! I love my Cajon Valley family! You are the best!”, “I LOVE flash mobs! The time and dedication for the sole purpose of entertaining strangers is too cool! Well done folks!”
But this video comes at a high cost. Parents might take a second look at the expenditure when the District hired a professional Los Angeles-based dance choreographer “not to exceed” $21,500 on May 26 of this year.
The company, Misnomer, Inc., doing business as BookAFlashMob.com , coordinated with CVUSD to provide creative direction for the theme, style, choreography, music and costumes for the flash mob video. (The company on its website boasts that it has been hired by such high tier corporations as the NBA, Live Nation, Disney, MTV, Google, Samsung, Pepsi, T-Mobile, Bain Capital, Unilever, IBM, Chicago Blackhawks, Sears, American Heart Foundation, Symantec, Hyatt, USPS, Prudential “and many more, including well OVER 10% OF THE FORTUNE 500.”)
The initial $21,500 in funding for the “flash mob” video was approved on a 3-1 vote in May 2019. School board trustee James Miller, who self-identifies as a fiscally conservative Republican, made a motion to approve the expenditure. His motion was seconded by Karen Clark-Meija, with Board of Trustees president Tamera Otero voting in the affirmative. Jo Alegria was not present for the vote.
Trustee Jill Barto, known for her conservative approach of opposing what she views as wasteful spending, voted against the expenditure, which came directly out of district funds.
Other priorities remain unfunded
“I’m not against doing the videos, but we need to be spending money on making our schools more secure for our students,” Barto stated.
Her remark referred to a December 2018 report by a security consultant hired by the district in response to a County Grand Jury report, which urged local districts to improve security in order to protect students.
That report recommended substantial and costly upgrades to make schools safer and protect students in the wake of recent mass shootings, but the district has indicated it does not have enough money for those upgrades without passage of a future bond measure. Such passage is far from assured in a district where many families are low income.
As reported several months ago by ECM, DTM and AECOM Consultants identified the main areas of security concerns at the district’s schools: fire, hostile parents, unauthorized access to campus property, targeted attack, custodial interference between adversarial parents, and crimes scenes elsewhere that gravitate onto school property.
Recommendations made by the security consultants include establishing a uniform emergency response to incidents and installation of computer-managed locking devices, additional lighting, painting large identification markers on top of school buildings throughout the district so that areas where a hostile situation is taking place can be identified by law enforcement helicopters and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (or “drones”) controlled by an operator on the ground.
School safety upgrades aren’t the only unfunded needs. In recent school board meetings, during public testimony, teachers and others have asked for funds to repair or upgrade aging school facilities. Parents have also spoken out to voice concerns over 25 percent of the district’s schools failing to meet state standards in math and English as measured by the California Dashboard tests, as ECM reported. Superintendent David Miyashiro has dismissed those concerns, claiming the state is testing the “wrong metrics.”
The question of CVUSD’s inordinate spending on promotional videos could become an aggravating thorn in the side of the district next year, when it plans to ask voters to approve a bond measure of up to half a billion dollars to fund security upgrades as well as building infrastructure, new construction, renovations, site improvements, and technology infrastructure.
ECM’s findings suggest that the Cajon Valley Union School District (CVUSD) wants to have its cake and eat it, too, when it comes to balancing its wants and needs. The district wants to have a blank check for its promotional videos, while asking taxpayers to allocate more funds to fulfill the directives of the Grand Jury for security needs.
Records withheld for some video expenditures
From 2017 through June 2019, Media Arts Project has taken in $139,000 for its CVUSD video work, while in the same time period, Ron Cook Media was paid $75,000 for a total of $199,600 during that timeframe.
East County Magazine sent a public records request to Superintendent Miyashiro, and Board President Otero and other school district executives requesting final project costs and accounting for the “flash mob” video on Sept. 6, but they have failed to comply with the request, as the district has done for numerous other ECM CPRA requests. (California government code flatly requires agencies and public school districts to honor such requests within 10 days; only extreme and unusual circumstances may they extend responses out another 14 days. (California Government Code Code §6253.) But even by the maximum time allowed by law, the district is in violation.
The flash mob video was produced and edited by Media Arts Project, a San Diego-based video cooperative. ECM contacted via e-mail Ethan Van Thilio, the non-profit’s founder and executive director for copies of contracts and invoices pertaining to the flash mob video project to determine final production costs. (ECM has since filed a formal CPRA request to Van Thillo and the collective’s board president, Antonio Ventura.
For other district video projects, Miyashiro entered into another agreement with Ron Cook Media on Aug. 28 that would pay them up to $40,000 for video production services through Dec. 31 using “one-time funds and/or ASA Grant funds depending on type of video ”on an as-needed basis.” “
ASA Grant funds refers to grant money awarded by the American Student Assistance. According to its website, “American Student Assistance is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help students know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices to achieve their education and career goals.”
More money, more videos?
In late August at a board of trustees bond workshop, the CVUSD trustees met with Dale Scott, president, of Dale Scott & Company (DS&C). The San Francisco-based consulting firm provides election advisory services to California’s school districts and community college districts for general obligation bonds. Its website claims that it is among the leading election consultants in the state, having won over $10 billion in successful bond elections.
A document referred to during the meeting as a “draft facilities needs list” indicates that nearly $1.2 million is to be allocated to security upgrades at the district’s schools if its bond request is approved by voters.
While a half million dollars spent on videos is a lot of money, it’s important to note that even if no money had been spent on videos, the savings could at best have funded less than half of the recommended security upgrades in the consultant’s report, not counting other district facility needs.
The CVUSD is hoping that its past luck with East County voters will stretch into approving a half-billion-dollar bond measure to cover the recommendations of the security consultants to fortify security at CVUSD schools, as well as for other priorities. The bond payoff would occur after 34 years.
According to CVUSD Assistant Superintendent Scott Buxbaum, “We have estimated four bond sales during those 10 years and each bond is typically financed for a 25-year life. Provided that the last bond sale would happen in 2029, the overall debt cycle would about 34 years from the first sale in 2020 until the final payoff in 2054,” he said.
Neighboring East County school districts spent far less on promotional videos
The half million dollars that the CVUSD has spent on promotional videos over the past five years appears to be even more excessive when compared to spending at other neighboring East County school districts.
An ECM records request to the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, Lakeside Unified School District, and Grossmont Union High School District produced rapid responses – and dramatically lower expenditures on marketing and promotional videos.
According to Valerie Ranum, the La Mesa-Spring Valley’s district’s Director of Business Services, the district had no video production costs from July 2014-June 2018. From July 2018-June 2019, the district spent $14,500 for videography services to produce of 29 videos.
The Lakeside district spent approximately $5,500 on four marketing, publicity, or promotional videos from July 2014 through July 2019 through a San Marcos-based marketing company called “Target River.”
Both the La Mesa-Spring Valley and Lakeside districts operate elementary and middle schools, like the CVUSD.
Yet even the far larger Grossmont Union High School District indicated that he has spent $7,950 on five videos since 2017.
The average cost of each CVUSD video ends up being just over $3,000 dollars while the neighboring districts’ spending on videos range from $500 to $1500 apiece.
Sticker shock: community members criticize lavish expenditures
Local community activist Estela De Los Rios expressed outrage over what she views as excessive spending on videos by the CVUSD. (photo, right: recent CVUSD videos on Youtube.)
“These are outrageous expenditures. Enough is enough,” she told ECM. “Our students need and deserve the best education . An ongoing issue in this school district is security. There are no bullying policies in place,” adds De Los Rios, who has addressed the board previously to call for action to prevent bullying. “For several years now there has been an overwhelming high number of bullying incidents reported by students and parents. Bullying is dangerous and deadly for children who suffer in pain every day.”
She continued, “This superintendent’s priorities are definitely in the wrong place and definitely unethical. Parents and community should be concerned. These are our children, our future leaders, and the district should be focusing on their best interest--not senseless videos which are self-serving [to] an individual who is wasting our tax dollars. We pay his salary. He works for us.”
Ray Lutz, founder of Citizens’ Oversight Project (COPS), a nonprofit government watchdog organization based in El Cajon, also expressed his disdain for the videos and Miyashiro.
“It seems the Cajon Valley School District is more interested in cheap promotional clicks on viral videos than on its core mission: education,” says Lutz. “Are they spending a similar sum on truly educational videos that will help students do better in school? I doubt it. This spending of more than a half million on these ridiculous YouTube videos is an embarrassment.”
No response from CVUSD Superintendent Miyashiro or Board President Tamera Otero
CVUSD Superintendent David Miyashiro, EdD did not respond to ECM’s multiple requests for an interview regarding the district’s spending on its promotional videos.
ECM reached out to Board President Tamera Otero, who requested ECM provide her with our questions beforehand, contrary to professional journalism standards. We refused.
(View our e-mail requests sent to Miyashiro and Otero.)
Among other things, ECM had intended to ask Miyashiro and Otero their vision and goals for the videos, as well as any verifiable revenues or other benefits that may have resulted from expenditures on videos, such as grant funds or new students. In short, we sought justification for the district’s extravagant video production spending habits.
ECM still welcomes any opportunity to speak with Miyashiro and Otero on this matter, if either or both should choose to reconsider their lack of responses.
ECM also requested comments on the findings of our investigation from the San Diego Taxpayers Association (SDTA) president/CEO, Haney Hong. The SDTA hosts an annual “Golden Fleece” awards ceremony at which it draws attention to extravagant expenditures by public agencies.
Through a public relations representative, Suzy Garcia of Scantena Daniels Communications, Hong declined to speak to ECM. Garcia first stated that Hong “needed more information.” Despite follow-up contacts with details provided by ECM, Garcia and Hong refused to respond to subsequent requests for comments.
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