A two-page ad for District 91 schools, which cost $18,000, is running in the Chicago Bears Season Preview 2020 magazine this year, a publication sent primarily to Chicago Bears season ticket holders.
A similar ad was placed last year in the same publication. In both 2019 and 2020, the $18,000 ads were paid in three installments of $6,000 each. The annual communications budget for the district is between $35,000 and $40,000 annually, according to Superintendent Lou Cavallo.
The magazine, available online at publogix.com/e/20-CHBYB (the D91 ad is on page 140), features football-related content such as statistics, rosters, and NFL player match-ups. Most of the advertisements are from big-name companies. Mercedes. Heineken. Calvin Klein’s Eternity for men. A few colleges have run ads, including Dominican University’s one-page listing.
It seems an unusual placement, however, for an ad for a public elementary school district, which can only be attended by residents of a particular town.
When asked why this publication was chosen for advertising, Cavallo said in an email, “Good question. There is really no good reason to advertise in this publication, and I was not at all pleased to find out that we placed a very expensive ad in a publication that has limited reach.”
Cavallo said he knew nothing about the ads run in either year and was unaware of them until a community member recently brought it to the attention of a board member.
Within the district, only Scott Dunnell, communications and public relations manager, and Ed Brophy, assistant superintendent of operations, who signed off on the ads, were aware of them, Cavallo said.
Invoices from D91 were paid to Professional Sports Publications (PSP), which publishes annual yearbooks for professional sports teams, including the Chicago Bears.
Board President Kyra Tyler said the invoices were part of the list of bills approved in the consent agenda during board meetings, but they never stood out to board members.
“Without any information or narrative about the purchase (the line item in the bills never mentions the Chicago Bears), it wasn’t seen as anything suspicious or unusual,” Tyler said in an email, adding that $6,000 expenditures in an almost $20M budget “is just a small fraction.”
Additionally, said Tyler, the expenditure was never mentioned in monthly updates from the PR director, and “the board doesn’t formally vote on anything under $25,000 as an agenda item during the meeting, so that’s another reason why we weren’t aware.”
To get a clearer understanding of the rationale for placing the ad, the Review reached out to Dunnell, who agreed to a meeting but then received a phone call from Brophy on the way to the meeting forbidding him to speak about the issue. The Review received an email from Brophy stating that any follow up questions regarding the ad must go directly to Cavallo.
When asked, via email, if a larger context or explanation for the ad purchase could be provided, Cavallo said no.
“It seems that you would prefer that I give you a rationale for why it was done when I clearly don’t think it was a wise decision to purchase such an expensive ad and I am not going to lie to you about it and make up a reason for why it was done,” Cavallo said. “Purchasing that ad with taxpayer dollars was a mistake.”