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Baldwin: 'You're Paying for Proven Expertise'

Public relations consultant Ann Baldwin says she provides value to the district at a cost of $24,000 for the year.

Ann Baldwin first arrived on scene in Newtown in July when the school district was deep in the throes of the school bus contract debate.

A former Hartford area television news broadcaster who runs a public relations business, Baldwin works for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. She introduced herself during that July meeting to a few reporters as someone whom the district, through its membership in CABE, had asked for help in the field of communications.

"I was brought into the issue but not because of the issue," Baldwin said this week, adding her involvement extended beyond the school contract debate.

Several months after the awarding of the school bus contract, Baldwin remains a consultant for the district, which signed a so-called "letter of agreement" with CABE for her services for one year at $2,000 a month or $24,000 a year, according to officials and Baldwin. Those services can be terminated with a month's notice, she said.

During the school bus controversy, Baldwin helped the district plan a public access television show where Hart, business director Ron Bienkowski, parent Charles Hepp and a moderator talked about the district's school bus contract process – a show that some criticized as being one-sided though officials at the time said they had invited people with differing viewpoints who declined to attend.

Baldwin also helped the district videotape a , the company that ultimately won the contract, and post the video onto the district's website so that people who couldn't attend the presentation could watch it for themselves.

The consultant said she also plans on working with teachers on ways to showcase their work and that of their students to the public, as well as possibly assist high school students with putting on a regular public access television show.

The money to pay for Baldwin comes out of the district's professional services budget, which has been approved for $715,720 this year and could be used to pay for a litany of diverse services, such as out-of-district speech pathologists, if needed; and consultants to help teachers with professional development, the business office with ways to improve the budgeting process and in Baldwin's case, provide communications' advice to the superintendent and others.

Included in that expense category is $163,600 in professional services specially budgeted for the superintendent and central office use, according to the district's budget document.

Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, who could not be reached for comment because she is traveling out of the country with other school officials, has discretion over what type of professional services that budgeted account can be used to pay, according to district officials.

Board of Education chairman Bill Hart said he was aware of Baldwin's involvement with the district, and understood why Robinson brought the consultant in, particularly because he and others have brought up the issue of better communication with the public.

"I have been pushing for her ever since I've been on the board to do a better job of communicating," he said of Robinson.

Ironically, while Hart and apparently others knew about Baldwin's involvement with the district to help improve communications, that hadn't been communicated to everyone on the education board.

"In 20/20 hindsight, it never hurts to communicate better," Hart said.

Baldwin said she wants to assist with communications in any way she can, a role that in some districts is filled by a full-time person.

"I know the price is very reasonable," she said of CABE's fees. "You're paying for proven expertise and track record and effectiveness."

MrLogical December 14, 2011 at 08:16 PM
2 questions: 1) When will Ms. Robinson be required to account for her misfeasance? 2) When will the BOE ask for her resignation?
Oh Henry December 17, 2011 at 10:36 PM
"A split procurement or purchase occurs when a Purchaser intentionally divides or appears to divide a single purchase requirement into two or more separate purchases to avoid exceeding the single transaction limit assigned to the Purchaser procurement ability" This is how the US government sees purchasing $2000 of services per month. They then go on to call it a CRIME and prosecute the employee. So if someone wanted to buy something real big like oh say public relations video and "coaching services" they would just "split the procurement" over many months and Vola there is you $40k purchase broken up into many little ones. No one is the wiser, heck you don't even need to tell anybody. Folks.......This is criminal behavior and it is only what we have discovered. I wonder what other "purchases" are being made
Emma December 17, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I can't see a way for Janet Robinson to prevent this indiscretion from becoming a scandal. Between her diversion of tax dollars to a service that is clearly outside the educational mission of Newtown's schools in an underhanded, calculated act of non-disclosure, The manner in which the expenditures were structured / divided in an embarrassing attempt to allow this obvious manipulation to fly under the radar and the six-month long complete lack of communication to other town officials, taxpayers and the rest of Bill Hart's BOE about this communication consultant's very presence? It may be necessary to propose charter amendments to prevent this kind of unilateral fiscal misappropriation, as well as limiting the powers of a lame duck, outgoing board. Like every taxpayer discovering this unethical plundering, I'm especially troubled by the incredibly poor judgement shown in expending taxpayer dollars to supposedly train / coach the three co-conspirators who were probably the only ones even aware of this charade: an outgoing BOE member, an on-his-way out BOE chair and a business manager passed off as a third BOE member.
MrLogical December 18, 2011 at 12:06 AM
This begs for an in-depth forensic accounting investigation led by the town attorney. The investigation should not be limited to Ms. Robinson's actions re: the Baldwin contract, nor necessarily those of the BOE, but the finances of the entire town. It is highly doubtful that this is the only such case of fiscal mismanagement, and it is further doubtful that Ms. Robinson conceived this scheme on her own; there is a distinct possibility that others are complicit. In the meantime, until the matter is cleared up to the satisfaction of the citizens and taxpayers of Newtown, Ms. Robinson and Mr. Hart should both step aside from their official responsibilities. In parallel, Ms. Baldwin's contract should be immediately revoked as per the terms and conditions specified in said contract.
Sam Mihailoff December 18, 2011 at 12:33 AM
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