Email to the Vestavia Hills Board of Education: from a stakeholder

January 19, 2011

January 19, 2011

from Jim Metrock <[email protected]>
to [email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected],
[email protected]
cc “Jamie R. Blair” <[email protected]>,
[email protected]
date Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 8:55 PM
subject from a stakeholder

The Board believes that an informed public is vital to the success and support of public education.
The Board of Education recognizes that stakeholders should be able to learn what is occurring in their public school system…
reaffirms its commitment to openness in the System’s relationship with its stakeholders.

Dear Vestavia Hills school board members:

I want to tell you a story.

This story is true, unfortunately, and will preface the reason I write.

It happened many years ago in a city by the sea.

2,300 miles away the NSBA held their annual conference in San Francisco.  Most of the Vestavia school board attended – hey, it’s San Francisco.

I was there too.  I had a booth in the exhibition hall telling board members how they could end their contracts with the Channel One marketing company and gain an extra week  of instructional time each year. I was wildly successful, but that’s another story.

One Vestavia board member I saw on the exhibition hall floor was **** *****. I was disturbed to see him, but I didn’t jump to any conclusions.  I asked **** if he was a conference speaker or a member of a panel  discussion. He said he wasn’t speaking. I asked if he was helping with the new member orientation program.  No. He had no NSBA responsibilities.

I then asked him what any Vestavia resident would ask: “Why are you here?”

You see it was April, and months before it was announced Mr. *****was leaving the board at the end of the school year. I still remember him smiling, and I most certainly remember his exact words: “This is my last hurrah.”

My stomach knotted up. Yet, I smiled too and wished him well.

Later Superintendent Harrison Cass came by my booth and I brought up the “last hurrah” comment.  Dr. Cass was quick to say the board does their own thing with these conferences.  He raised his hands in mock surrender and said there is nothing he can do about their decisions.

When I came back home I talked to several board members and they said this is the way it has always been done.  Retiring board members go on cross country trips just like new board members do.  Nobody expressed any concern about taxpayer money being wasted.  Indeed I sensed some were irritated that I questioned anything about their trip and expenses.

For several months I tried to access expense reports, but was given various excuses by the superintendent’s secretary about why they were not available. I asked for a record of what individual board members did in San Francisco.  What meetings they attended?  Was there anything to justify the expense of flying board members across a continent? Nothing was provided. Other projects came up for me and I forgot about it.  Looking back, I felt I let our city down by not following through.  Shame on me.

End of story.

I have spent six months trying to get a few simple questions answered about Channel One’s status at Pizitz.  Like every Vestavia Hills citizen, I expect clear, unambiguous answers to simple questions about important matters concerning our school district. After months of patient waiting, I didn’t get that and that isn’t right.For a while I thought Channel One was gone from our classrooms but I now have to assume otherwise. I have to assume Pizitz has been showing Channel One’s TV show with its specially-targeted commercials this school year and that you, Vestavia Hills school board members, have known about it and approved, if only tacitly.

I base this assumption on several things.  First, although Mr. Miles refused to reply to my emails, in August 2010 he included a substantial article about Channel One in his Back to School Pizitz Pipeline newsletter. Why would he do that if this TV program wasn’t being shown?

In the article Mr. Miles says:

As you may be aware, Channel One News has come under criticism from a number of organizations. In response to these concerns, we have, over the past several years, shown unedited episodes of Channel One News to numerous ad-hoc parent groups, a social studies curriculum review committee, to the Pizitz PTO Board, to the Vestavia Hills PTO Council, to a meeting of Pizitz PTO homeroom mothers, as well as to a significant number of individual parents. Central Office administrators as well as members of the Board of Education have also had the opportunity to view episodes. All of these groups have expressed no objection to Channel One as it is used and monitored at Pizitz.

Also Mr. Boone confirmed that Channel One was in fact being shown to at least some students when he told me recently that he had no problem with his granddaughter presently viewing it at Pizitz.

So if this board has no problem with students being compelled to watch commercials during taxpayer-funded school time, then I have a huge problem with this board.  That shouldn’t concern you much because I’m just one person, but what should concern you is the response of the community. I’m thinking Vestavia residents think Channel One went away years ago when the high school dumped it.

It also appears that this board is unconcerned about the inequality of educational opportunities at our two middle schools.  I made two calls to two different people at Liberty Park Middle School.  When I asked each person if they have Channel One in their school they both said no. One sounded like I had insulted her and I understand why she would think that.  So a middle school student assigned to Pizitz has to be shown one hour a week of a controversial TV show and a Liberty Park student has that extra hour a week for what? Academics? That is assuming Pizitz is honoring the Channel One contract (required to show the program 90% of school days). I have tried to ascertain if our district is complying with the contract, but as you can read below all I got was wordplay, parsing of words and non-answers.

Channel One got started in 1989.  In 1990, local superintendents were wined and dined by Channel One representatives.  Sell us your students and each school will get free use of a TV network. It was a pretty outrageous proposal.  Marty Connors was hired by Channel One to sign up the over-the-mountains schools.  If these impressive districts signed up it would be easier to sign up other districts.  At a dinner meeting at the Riverchase County Club, it was time to put up (the kids) or shut up. Mountain Brook refused to attend.  Homewood also rejected Channel One. Hoover refused. (One Hoover school (Simmons) was allowed to sign up but they ended Channel One in 1999.) Shelby County signed up all their schools and Carlton Smith enthusiastically signed up our high school and middle school.  Shelby County’s board voted overwhelming to remove Channel One from all 18 of their schools in 1998. Our high school, you know of course, kicked out Channel One in 2000 at the request of teachers.

I don’t think anyone can argue with how I have tried patiently to obtain answers from our school officials politely and quietly. I asked for a meeting with Dr. Blair. He refused. His secretary said that  because I was questioning the legal status of the contract Dr. Blair wanted me to contact Mr. Boone.  While trying to arrange a meeting with Mr. Boone, I received a joint phone call from Mr. Boone and Dr. Blair that I presume equated in their minds to a “meeting.”

Again no unambiguous answers were supplied. Both gentlemen became agitated during the call.  Mr. Boone said he had not forgotten about how I had spoken harshly to him at a AASB meeting in Orange Beach years before.  Mr. Boone at one point called me “son” as in “Son, let me explain to you…” When I tried to interrupt him by asking him, “Pat, did you just call me ‘son’?” he didn’t acknowledge me.  That type of condescending attitude really doesn’t phase me, it’s sort of funny, but that might be off putting to other citizens dealing with our school administration. It certainly doesn’t represent our school board well.  I don’t make recordings of phone calls but if either Dr. Blair or Mr. Boone do, I would urge the board to listen to their call to me. I think you would find it instructive.

When I told Dr. Blair and Mr. Boone that if I can’t meet with either of them, I’ll just bring my concerns up at a board meeting, Dr. Blair said that he would not allow me to talk to the board about this issue and that the issue is dead.  [So this is one reason I write such a lengthy email. I might not have an abundance of access to the board.]

The closest Mr. Boone came to giving an answer to my question “Are we complying with the contract?” was when he said that the Channel One company had no contractual problems with our district. Good grief. That’s not an answer one would expect from a school attorney. It’s a good answer from an advocate parsing words, but I’m a citizen asking if our district is complying with a major contract. Yes or No? The problem, which I could have explained in a meeting, is that Channel One doesn’t know if schools are honoring their contract.  They have a contract signed by our superintendent stating Pizitz Middle School is showing the program to x-number of students at least 90% of school days, and they rely on this document.  That signed contract is shown to advertisers who pay according to the size of the audience.  If our district is misrepresenting it’s viewer numbers to Channel One, advertisers are being defrauded. This includes our federal government that airs military recruitment ads on the show. All this has significance that I don’t think Dr. Blair and Mr. Boone fully appreciate.

Conclusion: There needs to be a board “watchdog” for lack of a better name. I hope to find someone else to do this or maybe a group, but until then I will take this on. If this board is not bothered with Channel One’s waste, then it is not unreasonable to think there is more waste going on in our school system.  If the mentality concerning board member trips, lodging, and dining is the same as years past (and I hope that is not the case) then it needs to stop. If other citizens have been treated like I have been, that needs to change.

I have not met any of you but I have read your bios and know a little about some of you.  Each of you are impressive individuals, but I have seen enough boards across the country and here in Vestavia to know that a collection of impressive civic leaders do not necessarily guarantee impressive board decisions. Too often board members take their policy cues, such as a decision to commercialize the school day, from the superintendent instead of the other way around. Too often I have seen board members stifle their own deeply held principles to attain the bizarre goal of board unanimity.  The vast majority of U.S. boards of education have repudiated Channel One’s commercial assault on schoolchildren, yet none of you, with your different backgrounds and life experiences, have stood up and opposed Channel One being in one of our two middle schools. That may be because you know something that Dr. Blair isn’t telling me or it may be that your desire to be in lockstep with each other is too powerful for me to overcome.

I look forward to meeting each of you within the next couple of months as I begin coming to meetings and coming to the central office and Pizitz to ask for access to public documents and videos of Channel One.

Asking questions hasn’t gotten me very far. I will now search for answers myself.

Much Obliged,

Jim Metrock

PS  Although I know a lot of teachers and school employees, I never ask them about Channel One or anything else that might get them crossways with school officials. I value friendship over information. That is why I am so dependent upon questions being answered. So if our district ever ends its contract with Channel One, please let me know.  Otherwise I will assume our Pizitz students are continuing to watch commercials daily.



Jim Metrock to blairjr

Wrong answer.

Sent from my iPhone

Dr. Jamie Blair to Jim
Mr. Metrock,
Mr. Boone and I addressed your continued concerns in our conference call with you earlier this month. I have no further information to offer. This will be my last communication with you regarding Channel One.
Happy New Year to you too.
Jamie Blair
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Jim Metrock to blairjr, prewittkh, benosk, jdent, davidwalker, jcpounds

Dear Dr. Blair

I write you one more time to try to get answers to my questions about Channel One in our school district.  As you know I have been trying to get these answers since August.

I have crafted my previous questions so you should be able to answer these “yes” or “no.”

1.  Has Pizitz shown the Channel One TV program to any students this current school year?

2.  Are there any plans to end our district’s contract with Channel One?

3.  If there are no plans to end the contract, is it the intention of our district to comply with the contract?

I know you might have to talk with Mr. Miles first before getting back to me.

Now excuse me for being a little blunt, but this whole effort to understand the true status of Channel One at Pizitz has been very disappointing. Citizens deserve prompt, unambiguous answers from their school administrators.  When you previously said, “We will continue to use Channel One as we have in the past” that is a classic non-answer – Pizitz has previously honored and breached the contract.

I hope you find these questions reasonable and worthy of answering.

Best wishes for the New Year,

Jim Metrock

> Mr. Miles, I have not heard from you this week. Is your silence telling me that I should visit Dr. Blair and ask him? Please consider answering these questions or at least tell me to contact Dr. Blair or someone else. Hopefully, you have been on vacation this week and haven’t gotten to my email. I am sending this to Dr. Blair just in case your email address is no longer valid. (I used the email you provided for special ed parents to use to contact you.) I hope to hear from you or Dr. Blair. Thanks, Jim Metrock


Jim Metrock to jimmetrock
Mr. Miles I may be talking with Dr. Blair soon about the legal status of Channel One’s contract with Pizitz. I don’t need to talk with him if you will tell me if you are showing Channel One in its entirety at least 90% of school days. I feel as a taxpaying citizen I have a right to this information. As I said a few months ago, Pizitz students have told me they haven’t seen Channel One News in years. If you are not honoring the contract, just tell me, so I do not have to take up a moment of Dr. Blair’s time or the Board’s. Thanks, Jim Metrock

Jim Metrock to milesdw, Jamie, jcpounds, davidwalker, jdent, benosk,
Dear Mr. Miles,

As I wrote Dr. Blair, the only issue now about Pizitz having Channel One is whether our school district will stop intentionally breaching the contract and just end it.

I fully understand that Pizitz students are no longer wasting time watching movie ads and any other Channel One advertising.  You have made Pizitz an even better school by ending the compulsory viewing of commercials and, again, you should be commended.  You are now like Liberty Park Middle School: a commercial-free middle school.

Previously I mentioned the financial damages that advertisers, including our federal government, incur when a district breaches this contract.  However, there is another reason why your noncompliance with the contract is of importance, especially during the next few months.

On June 24 an investor group ZelnickMedia (best known for the violent video game Grand Thief Auto) agreed to purchase Channel One’s parent company Alloy Media and Marketing.  The sale is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year.  ZelnickMedia is currently doing their due diligence research.  I am to meet with ZelnickMedia in a few weeks.

My message to them: You should drop Channel One from the purchase.  The signed contracts on which Channel One’s value is based are often treated like sham contracts by school districts.  I will give them examples, none more blatant than Pizitz.

David, this is just a matter of doing the right thing as a school administrator.  When our High School no longer wanted to maintain its contract with Channel One, Ann Jones had the contract terminated.  When Simmons the only Hoover school that ever experimented with Channel One wanted it gone, Jack Farr the superintendent notified Channel One of its termination.  When Shelby County teachers, parents and board members became shocked with the content of Channel One and its website, Superintendent Evan Major wrote Channel One that the contract was immediately ended at all eighteen schools.  (As you know, Homewood and Mountain Brook never had Channel One.)

Channel One is done at Pizitz. It’s been done for years. Why do I sense you desire a confrontation over this? Why would you seek conflict when there is absolutely no need for any? Our community doesn’t need you digging in your heels over this.

We all read this week that our school district is wanting a building contractor to fully finish a job and honor their side of the contract. Vestavia citizens assume we honor our side of contracts.

If there is any change to the Channel One situation at Pizitz, please let me know.

Much Obliged,

Jim Metrock

Jim Metrock to jcpounds, davidwalker, jdent, benosk, prewittkh, Jamie, bcc:

Dr. Blair,

Thanks for responding.  Your reply however is quite at odds with what I discovered yesterday.

Yesterday I found myself at a gathering with several wonderful, rising eighth-grade Pizitz students.  Since I hadn’t heard from Mr. Miles I did something I haven’t done in the past. I asked the students about Channel One. (Boy, I should have done that a while back.)

Some didn’t know what I was talking about.  They knew the term from a menu choice maybe? on the Promethean boards. All but one said they haven’t seen the show at all while at Pizitz.  One said they thought that Pizitz ended Channel One in the sixth grade (2008-09).

It is clear that the Vestavia Hills school district is breaching a major contract with a school vendor.  It appears we have been doing this for years.  I don’t want my school district to be breaching any contracts with anybody, and I know you don’t either.  I want contractors and others who deal with our schools to honor their contracts and I want our schools to honor contracts with those who do business with them.

I have never encouraged any school district to breach a contract with Channel One.  I’m a retired member of the Bar, but you don’t have to be a lawyer to know routinely and intentionally breaching a contract is unacceptable behavior.  I urge schools to simply end the contract. (This contract can be ended at any time, even if it has rolled over for another three year period, with no penalties. There are no liquidated damages.) This is the proper way government entities deal with contracts that no longer make sense.

Pizitz cannot keep the equipment, which is old and out-of-date anyhow, without airing the 12-minute show daily at least 90% of school days to all students. (Pizitz will keep the wiring and the TV brackets if you wanted them ($70 each).)

When Vestavia Hills treats this contract with such contempt, there are repercussions that you may not have thought about.  Channel One makes their money by selling so many eyeballs to advertisers.  The more students who watch Channel One, the higher fee they can charge advertisers for a 30-second spot.  Schools tell Channel One how many students are enrolled. Advertisers rely on the signed contracts with Channel One.  Money changes hands based on contracts such as yours. Mr. Miles may not think it’s any big deal if the letter of the contract is being honored, but advertisers do.

There is harm done when schools like Pizitz say one thing on a contract and do something else in the classroom.  I hope this gives you reason to reconsider your decision. If not, the fact that the U.S. government (military recruitment ads, CDC health PSAs, etc.) is a major advertiser on Channel One News might give you pause.  The military branches pay Channel One an advertising rate that assumes Pizitz and other schools are being honest about how many students are seeing the program.   Is it too much of a stretch to say Pizitz’s routine and intentional breach of the contract is defrauding the federal government?

Please pass on this email to the board attorney Mr. Boone.  I will soon request time to speak to the board about this breach of contract.  Several years ago Mr. Miles wrote to Channel One and stated how the program was being used at Pizitz and he asked the president Jim Ritts if that was OK with him.  Ritts wrote back that it was OK, but it is clear that Pizitz has since abandoned the central part of the contract: airing the show.

I would rather not have to bring this up at a board meeting.  Wouldn’t it be so simple to end the contract before school starts and get rid of this controversial presence in Pizitz?

I commend your decision to replace the Channel One tv sets with the Promethean interactive whiteboards.  I know that cost some money but it shows the forward vision you and the board have for our schools. It makes little sense to continue a contract with Channel One when your classrooms have a much more advanced network of white boards. I know of no other school that has such technology and still has Channel One.

Don’t get me wrong, it is great that Mr. Miles no longer requires Channel One’s commercials to be viewed at Pizitz.  Bravo to him.  So my concerns about Pizitz wasting school time with the show are over.  My focus is on the many lower-income area schools in Alabama and elsewhere that still have Channel One’s equipment and are showing the program.  I can use Pizitz either way as a good example for other schools.  Either you end your contract and that would be yet another great school that has ended the showing of classroom commercials or if you continue to keep their equipment and not show the program, I can tell other school districts (Mobile, Talladega, Etowah for example) that they too can stop showing the program and not risk the equipment being taken away.

Having Vestavia Hills continue with the contract and openly breach it or treat it as a sham contract would benefit me as I talk to other school districts, but the right thing to do is end the contract.

I hope you will reconsider your decision.

Best wishes for the school year,

Jim Metrock

Jamie R. Blair to jimmetrock, David
Mr. Metrock,
We will continue to use Channel One as we have in the past.  I feel that our position regarding Channel One was made very clear in the last meeting we had with you.  Therefore, I see no need to meet with you to discuss Channel One any further. As you can imagine it is an extremely hectic time of year and we are all very busy trying to start school.  Thank you and have a very nice day.
Jamie Blair

Dear Mr. Miles,

I have three quick yes-or-no questions which I hope you can supply an answer.

1. Is it your intention to show Channel One News to your students this school year?

2. Less than two years ago, Channel One restated its requirement that schools such as Pizitz that signed a contract before 2008 must show the program “at least 90% of the days that school is in session and Channel One News is broadcast.” If you are going to show the program, are you going to honor this clause, which is the heart of their contract?

3. Does Pizitz allow Vestavia citizens to take home copies of the Channel One program?

Over the past few years I have been all over the country helping parent groups remove marketing from their schools and school buses. I’ve been pleased with the results. You may be aware that since the last efforts to remove Channel One from Pizitz, Channel One has had a net loss of over 4,000 schools. They have gone from 12,000 schools to 8,000 and the rate of loss appears to be accelerating. There are reasons for this and some did not exist a few years ago when you defended the program so well.

If your intentions are to keep showing Channel One, I want to request a meeting with you at your convenience so I can share the newer concerns about the company.

I think you and many Pizitz parents would be concerned with the direction Channel One’s new owners are taking it.

Thanks so much and best wishes for the new school year.


Terms and Conditions of Network Participation for member schools installed prior to 2008 taken fromhttp://

C. School Undertakings
4) The School agrees to receive the Channel One News programs from COCC and to show the entire daily newscast on all installed television sets. The School will show Channel One News at a time or times of its choosing, provided that
(1) Channel One News must be shown on at least 90% of the days that school is in session and Channel One News is broadcast, (2) Channel One News must be shown when students are present in a homeroom or classroom (i.e. not before school, after school or during lunch) and (3) if Channel One News is not shown at a single time, it will be shown in accordance with the viewing schedule as described on the School Agreement.

14) So long as Channel One News is shown by the School in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement, the School may use the equipment for other educational or other purposes, provided that the Equipment may not be used by the School to show any other news program, specifically designed for viewing by students in schools and which contains advertising, without the prior written approval of COCC.

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