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CMS Hires Same PR Firm That Managed Gates Foundation Campaign

CMS officials are trying to reframe the debate over a controversial pay for performance plan. That plan would base teacher pay in large part on how well students score on standardized tests. Now, they're promoting something called a "talent effectiveness project." 

Board chairman Eric Davis has said CMS is not putting a new label on the same plan. But the board has hired the same PR firm that's worked on a campaign for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a group that supports pay for performance.

Over the summer, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation paid Carolina PR to promote CMS's 2014 plan, which includes pay for performance. The ads said that some ongoing initiatives around the strategic plan are easy to misunderstand.

The Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina found the ads manipulative. The group's president Judy Kidd questions the board's decision to go with Carolina PR for the search process. "It would make you wonder why they're using the same PR firm," says Kidd.

There's nothing shady going on, says school board chairman Eric Davis. He says it makes sense to enlist the firm's help partly because it knows the school system well. "They have the demonstrated experience, the competency and skill in doing this type of work in our community," says Davis. He says he's not worried Carolina PR's connection to the past campaign will bother many people. "I don't believe it will infringe the overall credibility of the process. I think we'll be well-served by Carolina PR," says Davis. The district is paying Carolina PR, a company based in Charlotte, $10,000 to come up with a plan to engage the community in the search and consult on messaging throughout the process.

The board also decided this week to pay UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute $10,000 to put together a survey on what people consider the most pressing education issues and what traits they want in a superintendent. That'll be unrolled later this month, followed by public forums in December.