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7:10 AM Wed, Sept. 26th

Humboldt school district marketing plan upsets other districts

PRESCOTT VALLEY - During the May 5 Humboldt Unified School District Governing Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Henry Schmitt introduced a new district marketing plan.

That plan, which includes a direct mailing to all households in the quad-city area and Mayer, has other school district officials up in arms.

HUSD mailed postcards extolling the virtues of attending district schools to residents in Chino Valley and Mayer this past week. The district plans to mail postcards to Prescott and Prescott Valley residents in the near future.

At the top of the list, HUSD highlights a five-day academic week, as well as providing transportation to several district schools.

The CVUSD Governing Board recently approved a four-day school week for the 2009-10 school year. MUSD also is on a four-day school week.

The mailing touts HUSD's state-of-the art athletic field, new performing arts center, and state-recognized English Language Learner, special education, food and nutrition programs.

Schmitt said that No Child Left Behind reforms and strict school accountability have given parents individual choices in selecting their child's school needs.

Schmitt said, "I am not here to debate the ideological merits of individual choice vs. publicly run educational systems. It is my duty to analyze the empirical data and local market forces and put in place strategies that will not only maintain our enrollment, but encourage its growth."

Enrollment revenue, Schmitt said, is the "bread and butter" of every district.

Schmitt said HUSD's marketing plan is to "target primarily charter schools and home-schooled children. There are five charter schools in the Humboldt district and eight charter schools in the Prescott school district. There are more charter schools in Yavapai County than in the state, and more in Arizona than the rest of the country."

Schmitt said district officials "want to know why and what charter schools are doing to attract students" away from public schools."

Chino Valley School District Superintendent Duane Noggle said HUSD's direct marketing to every household in Chino Valley "goes against the spirit of cooperation" fostered by a May 1 joint meeting of the governing boards from Chino Valley, Prescott, Humboldt and Mayer school districts.

Officials from area school districts met to discuss areas where cooperative efforts would benefit all districts.

The CYUSD Governing Board May 11 adopted a resolution suspending the district's participation in the quad-district cooperative efforts.

"My thought is that with 2,114 children, representing $11 million, not in public education, it would have been better to market them. We should let them know what great things we are doing, how each school has a unique niche," Noggle said.

On May 14, the MUSD Governing Board adopted a similar resolution, suspending the district's participation in the quad-city consortium.

MUSD Superintendent Pat Dallabetta said, "I am upset that HUSD is aggressively marketing our students. As you know, students are the lifeblood of the district."

The Prescott School District began a marketing campaign in 2001-02.

PUSD Superintendent Kevin Kapp said that while the district did not conduct a direct-mailing campaign to neighboring districts, "We did aggressively market PUSD in the charter school and home school markets. Our marketing has paid off extremely well and since the 2002-03 school year, PUSD has seen approximately a 2 percent student enrollment growth every year.

"Marketing is healthy, invigorating and enjoyable. School districts do not market nearly enough, in my opinion. It's very enjoyable to brag about your accomplishments, your programs and so forth," Kapp said.

The bottom line, Schmitt said, is to try to keep Humboldt students in Humboldt, and maybe draw in students looking for a choice.

Schmitt said 1,145 students in HUSD attend charter schools and about 450 home-schooled students live within the district boundaries. He said school buses and vans from PUSD, Sequoia Ranch Charter School, YCFA Achieve Academy, Sacred Heart Catholic School, Orme and Mayer pick up students from within the district.

"It is critical for HUSD to position itself so that it is not at the mercy of the State and economic forces that we cannot control. We must put in place smarter internal and external marking strategies that will seek opportunities for student growth," Schmitt said.