Differentiating Briarcliff Manor schools from those in other high-performing districts was a key driver in hiring a Long Island public relations firm to burnish the local “brand,” school board President Sal Maglietta said last Monday.
“A brand is very, very important in our community,” he told a school board meeting. “It’s not good enough to say we’re high-performing. What makes us different? What makes us special? And why should people want to stay in Briarcliff and why should people want to move here?”
Syntax Communications Group, the Bohemia, N.Y., public relations firm, was retained last November for $30,570, though it came to the public’s attention only last month with the ouster of School Superintendent Neal S. Miller. Syntax’s contract, arranged through Western Suffolk BOCES, calls among other things for developing "a comprehensive school public relations program."
Maglietta’s remarks came on a night when the board hired three other consultants to help on a range of projects and approved the district’s participation in the Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES capital-improvements bond. All 17 additional member districts must also vote support for the bond to advance the repair project, which failed to get unanimous support a year ago.
With all members of his school new board agreeing that “communications was not a strength of the district,” Maglietta said, they joined in considering options and a number of communications firms to carry them out.
In the end, he said, they settled on Syntax, which provides "technical support" to the Suffolk BOCES, and a three-pronged communications thrust that included a comprehensive inventory “of all of our formal and informal communications processes,” a study of the district’s website design and, finally, “branding.”
Maglietta introduced the subject of Syntax on his own motion, saying it was “important for the community to understand what’s going on in and around communications.”
“A couple of articles” had been written about Syntax by “news outlets that focus on our district and Pleasantville,” he said, an apparent reference to Pleasantville-Briarcliff Manor Patch, which had noted the firm’s sudden emergence as a spokesperson during the Miller episode.
The district had gotten a “terrific deal” in the Syntax signing, Maglietta told audience, saying the contract, executed through BOCES, entitles the district to 50 percent aid in meeting the cost. “So, incrementally this is not significant money for us to spend,” he said.
Public relations services for the Briarcliff Manor district had been handled by the Putnam-Northern Westchester BOCES. While stopping short of direct criticism, Maglietta said BOCES “did not really satisfy the full needs of our district.”