If rebranding does come to pass for the consolidated high school of the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD), it won’t be until next fall by Superintendent Toni Beal’s projection as of the Sept. 14 school board meeting.
Right now, the high school is operating under the placeholder name West County High School, with temporary banners in place around the school denoting the name. A partial rebranding would see the placeholder name become permanent, and throwing out rebranding altogether would have the campus revert back to its former name, Analy High School.
The school board unanimously approved a revised contract with Varsity Brands, Inc., to the effect that the district would now be released from its deal with the company it partnered to rebrand with first.
District trustees also agreed that another survey of the district’s staff, students, parents and community on rebranding would circulate in possibly October or November, to be developed by Board President Kellie Noe, Vice Board President Jeanne Fernandes and Beal.
Overall, Fernandes suggested the board may be able to make an ultimate decision at the start of 2022 to rebrand or not, if they can get the survey out in time. The discussion will come back to the whole board by November, along with how much rebranding expenses have cost the district so far, Noe said.
According to the superintendent, the revised contract with Varsity Brands actually sets the district free of future costs and obligations with the company and its affiliates, albeit in a zigzagging way.
What is this Varsity Brands contract?
Beal said that back when the board voted to rebrand the consolidated high school, an El Molino coach recommended she contact BSN Sports, their longtime uniform provider with experience in rebranding — as a division of Varsity Brands. She then got in touch with Varsity Brands members themselves.
In the meantime, school staff wanted to scope out different yearbook vendors. Ultimately, Herff Jones, another Varsity Brands division, proposed to partner with the district for five years and they pursued the deal with a discount and 15 free yearbooks annually, Beal said on Sept. 21.
Once the district had already joined up with BSN Sports and Herff Jones, Varsity Brands approached to say they’d agree to assist in the rebranding “and give you a whole bunch of things for free,” like their artists, rebranding process and experts “under the understanding that we would continue to use them,” Beal said.
"The conversation was, ‘We’re already using them, we don’t have any intention of not using them,’ so it wasn’t a risk in terms of continuing to use them at that time,” Beal said.
But the district caught a snag in the contract, since it originally put forth that they would partner with Varsity Brands’ affiliates for five years, in which time WSCUHSD would hit its bid limit. Beal said the district can spend $97,000 on a contract before needing to go to bid.
WSCUHSD informed Varsity Brands why the district didn't want to proceed with the contract, Varsity Brands accepted that, and the revised agreement was born.
“The revised proposed contract with Varsity Brands is different in that it says that we will continue in a relationship with them for five years or until we reach an amount of $75,000,” Beal said.
The superintendent said the district’s purchases of at least $75,000 from Varsity Brands’ affiliates have already fulfilled the terms of the contract upon approval. However, as of Sept. 21, Beal said she still needs to confirm whether the district has indeed paid $25,000 on uniforms so far, but if so, that expense and the roughly $55,000 for the Herff Jones contract would add up to over $75,000 and fulfill the revised Varsity Brands contract.
She reminded the trustees that if they dismissed the revised contract, Varsity Brands had already delivered the rebranding materials, so the district would then owe the company an anticipated $35,000.
"All of the banners that are around the school have been given to us for free. There has been no cost because it has been a part of the agreement that we have with them," she said.
Originally, the district’s contract with Varsity Brands didn’t include the $75,000 limit. “It was never approved by the board, so it was not yet a valid contract, which is why we went back to Varsity Brands and asked them to redo the contract, which they did,” Beal said.
It would appear that the district remains beholden only to its separate contract with Herff Jones for five years of yearbooks. As a Varsity Brands division, that cost tallies toward the $75,000 limit referenced Varsity Brands contract. The district intends to keep working with BSN Sports out of preference, Beal said.
The community speaks out
Besides the vocal opposition to rebranding, there’s been particular distrust of the district’s partnership with Varsity Brands since it was introduced in March. The superintendent said the initial rebranding process and package would be free for the district in its partnership with Varsity Brands at that time.
Members of the public expressed frustration over district spending and an overall lack of communication, although some may not have known until that night that the contract discussion referred to money already spent and shedding further obligations.
“This is absolutely ridiculous. You are not representing our community. It is truly time to start listening to us. We as taxpayers will be paying for your mistakes. This is not how we want our money spent,” one woman said. “This money should be spent on our students, supplying books where they aren’t any, adding classes so the current ones aren’t overcrowded.”
Adam Parks weighed in. “I can’t believe we’re having discussions about branding, and you just interviewed the whole board and everybody had their say and no talk of budget was brought up,” he said, describing that aside from rumors, the public hasn’t a clue what’s been spent or where the money’s coming from.
“If you want to spend some money, spend it on a communications officer,” Parks added, alluding to communication challenges during the West County High School lockdown. He said consolidation itself was the right thing to do, but it’s going wrong and angered not just small groups, but the whole community.
“The reason is, there’s no communication. No fiscal responsibility whatsoever and there is no plan of attack. All the board members I talked to over the summer gave Toni the direction to pause rebranding and now we have banners everywhere. And all of you told me, or not all of you, but some of you said ‘Ah, we didn’t realize what she was going to do.’ It’s time maybe you did.”
The road to rebrand has been a long one, like most of the trails blazed toward the district’s uncertain future this past year.
Trustees voted March 16 to rebrand the shared Analy High School and Laguna High School campuses to allow the new consolidated school its own identity, but new information about the district’s finances led the board to formally decide on May 5 to halt the process until the budget could hold out all the way.
On May 12, board directed Superintendent Toni Beal to run with the interim name West County High School “until additional financial information was known and current students could be consulted in the process,” according to a board agenda report.