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School photos in focus

Attorney asks about process, expenditures

POSTED: March 24, 2013 12:23 a.m.
 

The Forsyth County Board of Education will respond this week to a local attorney’s request to change the policy regarding school photographers.

Attorney Dana Miles was representing Gabriel Arango, owner of In & Out Photo in Cumming, when he asked the school board Thursday night to make some changes.

“What we request is that the board looks into this and the board set a policy that allows the local schools to select a preferred photographer, but allows parents to choose a different photographer if they want,” Miles said.

He also asked the board disclose how much extra money a school receives through a contract and where that’s spent.

“Then the parents know what they’re spending money for, they know what they’re getting,” Miles said. “It’s just a full disclosure and in this era of government, we shouldn’t have what’s going on in this type of program.”

Arango’s complaint is that parents don’t have a choice on who takes student photographs, particularly senior portraits.

In order to appear in the school yearbook, the student must have a photo taken by whichever photography company the school has chosen.

However, contracts from all five high schools indicate students need only to have a photo taken by the hired company — they don’t have to make a purchase to be in the yearbook.

Cindy Salloum, the system’s chief accountability officer and director of legal services, said after the meeting that each of the county’s schools choose their own photo company.

After speaking with all five high school principals, Salloum said “every one of them assured me that they talk to at least three vendors every year and then they choose.”

“One in particular said, ‘When I started my job, I went through three different companies in three years because they had to have the capacity to meet what we needed … and they didn’t have that,’” Salloum said.

As with other services, such as food vendors and school spirit wear companies, there is no official bidding process for the schools.

According to Salloum, photographers typically solicit their services to schools, often offering incentives to entice them to use their services.

Those incentives could include percentages or flat rates of sales given back to the school’s general fund.

Salloum also noted Arango has previously worked as a contracted photographer for both North and West Forsyth high schools.

Miles also questioned the pricing and added that parents aren’t given a list of where any extra money is being spent.

Salloum said the money in the general fund is all documented.

“We’re audited. They send in every month what they do,” she said. “A good chunk of that money goes to graduation fees.”

After the meeting, Miles said the “end result we’re aiming for is for the board to institute a policy that would … prohibit these involuntary contributions by parents to the schools for dollars they have zero control over and that would allow students and parents free choice.”

“Any of our local photographers would benefit from this because it would enable parents to make their choice of any of their local photographers,” he said.

 

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