LANCASTER — The trio of trustees who comprise Antelope Valley Union High School District’s new Board majority will get personal websites at the district’s expense after they voted Thursday night to contract with a Northern California entertainment company to develop them.
Board President Robert “Bob” Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin and Clerk Amanda Parrell approved the contract with D’Vacor Entertainment Group, with trustees Jill McGrady and John Rush dissenting.
D’Vacor Entertainment Group (http://dvacorentertainment.com) is based in Martinez in the East Bay portion of the San Francisco Bay area. The company describes itself as ‘your primary resource for events and entertainment planning.”
According to the contract, D’Vacor will design and develop each website to reflect the Board members’ personal brand or style, ideas, plans, policies and images for the schools members represent.”
McGrady asked Rose Lyles, a Northern California-based member of D’Vacor’s planning team who attended the meeting, how much the services would cost.
“Within the contract I couldn’t find any estimated cost, or cap. We typically have language not to exceed and I didn’t see anything,” McGrady said.
“Our contracts are based on an hour and so each board member would be able to be with us for the first phase and we would get an idea of how many hours we would actually spend on each Board member’s website,” Lyles said.
When pressed by McGrady, Lyles said the company’s website costs range anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 each.
The District could also be responsible for ongoing monthly fees such as maintenance, which would require a second contract. That could cost up to $1,000 per month per website depending on the updates.
“I’m just wondering how you found us. You’re from Martinez, is that correct? How did you find us?” McGrady said.
“I have online methods,” Lyles said, adding she also works in the Los Angeles area.
McGrady asked Lyles how many high schools the company has worked for.
“This will the first high school I will be working with,” Lyles said
At least one Board member is familiar with D’Vacor Entertainment Group: Ruffin. That’s because the company developed campaign materials for Ruffin, who was elected to the Board on Nov. 6.
D’Vacor’s website features four different examples of graphics developed for Ruffin’s campaign, including a “congratulations” graphic inviting supporters to her Dec, 12 induction ceremony.
It’s not clear how much Ruffin paid D’Vacor for its services — Ruffin filed a Form 470 with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.
A Form 470 is used by candidates and office holders who do not have a controlled committee, who do not anticipate receiving contributions totaling $2,000 or more during the calendar year, and who do not anticipate spending $2,000 or more during the calendar year.
Superintendent David Vierra said District staff did not have an opportunity to vet the company prior to D’Vacor’s contract being added to the agenda.
McGrady noted the District has a contract with Palmdale-based Coffee House Industries (www.coffeehouseindustries.com), an award-winning digital marketing agency that created websites for each school site and the district as well as branding for the schools and the district
D’Vacor is not a local business. McGrady said.
‘In their contract it says that we will be responsible for transportation,” McGrady said, noting that D’Vacor is about six hours away from the Antelope Valley.
“It does say that we are responsible for airfare, any transportation, anything that’s necessary in that,” McGrady said. “That would be an added cost to the $25,000. … Earlier someone said we are a steward for the taxpayer’s money. I think we need to keep that in the forefront of our brains — that we are using taxpayers’ dollars to create websites for us. I think that’s wrong.”
Rush asked if they could opt out of the plan, or approach one of the schools and have students do it.
“Is that anything that anybody on the board has considered, maybe that we use some of the resources that we have here?” Rush said.
Student trustee Noah Sveiven said Rush raised an important point.
“I have a website that I use as a public speaker, and it’s noahsveiven.com. I pay about $10 a month through Wix, and I designed it myself using an easy template,” Sveiven said.
Sveiven added he did not mean that as any disrespect to D’Vacor.
“I’m simply making the point that there are more affordable alternatives that require a minimal amount of technical know-how, and the cost is about $10 a month,” Sveiven said.
Ruffin said as they came on to the Board they discussed websites with Vierra, but those requests have been derailed.
“And in that derailment there are things that we want to communicate with our constituents and I have 10,100-plus reasons why members of the east side of Palmdale and Lancaster need to be aware and made apparent of things that go on in our districts and our community, up close and personal,” Ruffin said.
Ruffin said members of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Board of Education have their own websites where the community is engaged.
LA Unified is the second-largest school district in the country with an approximately $13.7 billion annual budget.
“With all due respect I hear all sides of the discussion and that’s why everyone has a vote,” Ruffin said.
Vierra clarified that there was no effort on the district’s part to derail anything.
“In fact Mr. Davis and I did have a conversation. There was actually a sample for Board members to take a look at, they have not had an opportunity to do that yet,” Vierra said, adding that the sample was created by Coffee House Industries.
Vierra added: ‘There was no derailment. The fact of the matter is, that this wasn’t done in the manner, within the time frame, that currently exists before us.”
Sveiven asked whether it was appropriate for the District to fund individual websites for Board members.
“If honorable members want to be involved with their constituents, perhaps it would be appropriate to have a Twitter account,” Sveiven said.
The student trustee noted President Donald Trump and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are active on Twitter, which is a way to connect with their constituents.
Sveiven suggested Board members could add their biographies to the District’s website, along with a way to contact them.
“As for contacting constituents there are other, more affordable ways to do it, to establish a rapport among the folks that one represents,” Sveiven said.
District counsel Bridget Cook said when contracts go before the school board she typically has an opportunity to review them before they come up for a vote.
That was apparently not the case with the D’Vacor contract.
Cook said there are several issues with the contract, including conflicting jurisdictions
“However this came to be, it’s not our typical process, and on such short notice, not being able to sit down with the proposer to review these, there are areas in this contract that are a concern that I need to make you be aware of as you are learning. I would be derelict not to tell you that this is fine just the way it is,” Cook said.
Lyles said she could revise the contract to stipulate L.A. County..
However, Cook said there are a number of other provisions that she has not had a chance to review.
“I’m trying to review whether it’s an appropriate contract for the board to enter into,” Cook said.
The Board voted 3-2, with McGrady and Rush dissenting.
Sveiven voted no as well in his capacity as a student trustee.
“I would like to respectfully take my name off. I do not want this district to pay for a web page for me,” McGrady said.
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