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LAUSD board puts faith in the power of the brochure

Craig Clough | June 12, 2015

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tamar galatzanAs part of a broader effort to fight declining enrollment due to students leaving in droves for charter schools, the LA Unified board voted this week to reconfigure its communications department to also include a marketing arm that will produce brochures and short videos highlighting the achievements and attributes of its schools.

The idea behind the resolution, which was sponsored by board member Monica Ratliff, is that well-funded charter schools often produce glossy brochures and other marketing materials that lure students away from traditional schools. The vote on the resolution, which was approved 6-1 with only board member Tamar Galatzan dissenting, led to a lively debate on the effectiveness of marketing on the minds of prospective parents and students.

Galatzan, who pulled the initiative from the consent agenda to voice her opposition, was rather adamant that the production of brochures was a “waste.”

“If we think this is going to make a difference, we are fooling ourselves,” said Galatzan while mockingly holding up a brochure. “No parent has ever made a choice of where to — you know, ‘Oh, the flagpole looks very straight in this picture.’ It doesn’t matter. Our success as a district is about educating kids and word of mouth.” 

Ratliff told a story about a charter school moving into her district and creating brochures that were put up in neighborhood stores, so she decided to counter the effort and have the district produce some brochures of its own about the traditional schools in the area, and she enlisted the communications office to help.

“I think that our communications department can do a good job to help get our schools to create marketing materials. Better them than no one,” Ratliff said.

Galatzan said she didn’t believe the communications office has the ability to develop marketing materials and brochures for over 1,000 schools and that requests would flood the communications office.

“With 1000 schools, it’s going to be all-consuming,” Galatzan said.

Board member George McKenna chimed in with a story about his time as a high school principal in South LA in the late 70s and 80s when the district was busing students from the neighborhood to schools in the San Fernando Valley, but that students who chose to go to the Valley schools did so voluntarily. The main way they were enticed, McKenna said, was with glossy flyers the district asked him to pass out. He said he refused to do it.

“They had to be persuasive, if not seductive. And if we want to bring our kids home, we have to be seductive too,” McKenna said. He added that while brochures may not be effective in Galatzan’s Valley neighborhood, they were very persuasive to people in South LA.

“The brochures work on some people. They say, ‘Come ye to me,'” McKenna said. “Our neighborhood folks are very persuaded by those — who we believe are better off — sending us brochures.”

Board member Bennett Kayser also shared his opinion on the power of brochures. Kayser lost a re-election bid to Ref Rodriguez in May and is serving out the remainder of his term through July. The campaign was nasty at times, and Kayser was the subject of several controversial flyers produced by Rodriguez supporters, one which accused him of racism.

“I had some experience with glossy flyers myself over the last month or two. And unfortunately they were more effective than they should have been,” Kayser said.


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