Why Did the Minneapolis Public Schools Waste $15k With Don Allen?

Sheila Regan’s two part series on the Minneapolis Public Schools contract procedures, and their strange choice to do business with Don Allen, brought out some interesting nuggets.

For one, it mentioned that the work Don Allen was paid $15k for is now available online. Here is video #1:

and video #2:

Personally, I think these videos are HORRIBLE. On the plus side, hardly anyone has seen these videos. As Regan’s reporting mentions, the first video had a whopping 18 views after 6 weeks on the Minneapolis Public Schools YouTube channel.

It also looks like the MPS did their own video production work to try to save these things. Is it just me, or does the sensible 30 seconds at the end of the video with Rachel Hicks seem like it was stitched on to make up for the first 30 seconds?

When word came out that Don Allen received this contract, I wrote about that and asked these questions:

Frankly, I’d love to know more about how the Minneapolis Public Schools entered into a contract with Don Allen in the first place. With so many talented and trustful residents in the City of Minneapolis, what made the Minneapolis Schools decide that Don Allen was the right person to hire for video production work? How did they decide upon the contract’s value? How do they measure success? Where will Poopgate take us next? So many questions.

That was in February, when Sheila Regan started investigating this topic for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. It took her more than 4 months to get answers to some – but not all – of those questions. For example, it’s still not explicitly clear who authorized this contract with Don Allen. Although, I could fashion a guess at this point: Foot Dragging Dan Loewenson.

Why Dan Loewenson?

Sheila’s report mentions that when Don Allen first proposed this project to the school district, it got as far as a consent agenda, but was then pulled. In general, items on consent agendas are approved without much debate, but a school board member familiar with Allen raised a red flag:

While Chris Stewart was serving on the Minneapolis Board of Education in 2010, he saw that Don Allen was under consideration to receive an MPS contract for a publicity campaign promoting MPS as a great place to enroll students. For Stewart, there was no question that the contract should not go forward. During his last month as a school board member, Stewart tried to find out why the contract was even considered, and worked to have it pulled from the consent agenda.

After Stewart left the board, Don Allen’s contract reemerged, only this time the contract was added to the consent agenda under the vendor name DWRA2.

Stewart also mentions to Regan that Loewenson is the guy who controls what appears on the consent agenda:

As far as Stewart knows, Dan Loewenson, currently the MPS Chief of Staff, was the only person who put items on the consent agenda.

To me, it sure looks like Dan Loewenson figured out a way to trick the school board into approving a $15,000 contract with Don Allen. This would also help explain why Dan Loewenson has been such a foot dragger when it comes to honoring data practices requests from reporters covering this topic.

It looks like Sheila Regan wasn’t able to get a copy of the actual contract the MPS awarded to Allen. I’d like to know who’s signature is on it.

7 thoughts on “Why Did the Minneapolis Public Schools Waste $15k With Don Allen?”

  1. the videos ARE horrible. the only message they send is “here at Minneapolis Public Schools, we can’t tell the difference between professionalism and an amateurish hack job.”

    and now the cover up. maybe Dan Loewenson feels like another good use of taxpayer money will be to pay for the inevitable lawsuit forcing him to comply with the data practices act.

    that should get the MPS even more free publicity.

  2. The second video didn’t seem so bad. I kind of liked it – although comparing the two was kind of like a miniature version of watching the Star Wars prequels. (“Hey! ‘Attack of the Clones’ wasn’t quite as soul-crushingly awful as ‘The Phantom Menace.'”)

    What really does these videos in is that he is promoting a product (education at Minneapolis Public Schools) and the video footage of the kids does almost nothing to indicate the value or benefit of that product. So my kids can read off of a cue card at MPS schools? Great. The second video comes closer by showing parents and teachers, but loses impact by having everything in front of pretty much one backdrop.

    I wish MPS would show videos of their quality education IN ACTION. Show me it’s happening. Or show me (without lies or stretching half-truths) people succeeding after graduation.

    And their Youtube account is a joke too. I’ve got twice the annual rate of views on my videos and I consider my account to be an afterthought to my blog and personal social media. But they offer little content and less of a reason to look for pertinent footage there.

  3. Love the kids but these spots totally miss the mark and MPS should be embarrassed to show them. 15k is not a huge budget but a high school production class could have done an equal or better job. With a talented video production community in town, some of whom are MPS grads, there is no excuse for this crap.

  4. I won’t comment on the political discussion here, but I will comment from a PR/marketing perspective and as a parent in the district. I don’t see a huge issue with the videos, but the question for me is this: Is video the best way to reach new parents considering school options for their kids? Did they do any research to confirm this theory? Would love to see that. My gut says not so much, and the views to date kinda back that up so far.

    What I would love to see instead from MPS, as a parent, is much more effort and diligence put into the process the spring/summer before your preschooler becomes a kindergartener for city residents. My wife an I just went through the process last year and it was less than satisfactory. I tend to think the communication they send to city residents in that timeframe is what’s making or breaking these types of decisions (and having gone through it now, I can see how it would break decisions for some). We’re at Hale and love it, but again the process was very unclear and difficult to navigate at times. My advice? Do your research upfront. And, put more money, time and effort into the processes where parents actually are making decisions. Make sure those are airtight–then worry about the videos…

  5. @Arik:

    i believe that those would be very appropriate and relevant questions if the Don Allen contract actually, at any point, had anything to do with finding the best way to provide a service to the MPS.

    that’s the sad part.

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