School District Takes Bids For Student Photos
BY STEFANIE MILLER Staff Writer
After decades of having student photographs taken by Jenks Studio of Photography, the St. Johnsbury School District is considering other options for next year.
Principal Kerry Keenan said Thursday that the administrative team will meet with bidders on Friday. The bidders will include Robert Jenks, owner of the Main Street studio.
In an April 15 letter to Jenks, Principal Vince Messina wrote, "I thought it appropriate at this time to remind you of our discussion that took place last fall concerning our need to investigate other options for having the children's pictures taken. You are certainly encouraged to submit your proposal, hopefully keeping in mind our need to be much more competitive in what picture taking opportunities we make available to our children."
Jenks said his studio has had a practice of taking individual shots of children in the fall and group shots in the spring so that people wouldn't have to purchase both at the same time.
In an April 29 letter to Jenks, Superintendent David Baker wrote, "Most companies I have worked with in the past take a class photo at the time of the original individual sitt
ings. This class photo is available to all students, whether they purchase an individual package or not."
Jenks said if he could offer such a package and still financially survive, he would.
"It would be like working twice as hard for half the money. It would be different if I was shooting half the schools in Vermont and had my own lab," he said.
Jenks said a major concern is the district might award the student photographs to an out-of-state company, thus sending dollars out of Vermont.
"Five or six people will basically decide for the whole school district," said Jenks. "Some of the things they don't realize is these people who come in from other companies are trained to sell. They'll do just about anything to get their feet in the door."
And, said Jenks, the people who make the pitch are not the same people who will come back to take the photographs.
"They won't know the quality or personality of the photographer who will show up," said Jenks.
"I spend a little more time with each child," said Jenks, noting that one of the joys of his job is having children recognize him at the grocery store.
He said, "Their eyes will get big and they'll smile and point. I'll say, & Ocirc;I took your school picture, didn't I?' I've probably taken some of the kids' pictures from the time they were in kindergarten until they're high school seniors."
If the district does go with an out-of-state company, Jenks said, it will be almost impossible for parents to have photographs replaced in the event of a fire.
When he goes to submit his bid, Jenks said he will be standing on history. The business was started by his great-grandfather, and the studio has been doing St. Johnsbury School District student photographs for 40 or 50 years.
In an April 27 letter, Jenks requested being put on the school board agenda - a request that was turned down.
In his April 29 letter, Baker wrote, "As a parent or taxpayer this makes sense, but as a local vendor I think it is inappropriate."
"It just seems like they were trying to do this without a lot of the public knowing," said Jenks.
"That would come as a total surprise to me," said School Director Lauren Jarvi. She said a decision was made informally by Baker and School Board Chairman Rob Ward that the issue was really for the administration, not the board.
"If the administration were doing something inappropriate, it might rise to the board level," said Jarvi.
Jarvi said there was a significant difference between a quoted price from another company and Jenks' prices.
"I personally would like to continue to patronize a local merchant. There certainly was a sense of awareness that Bob is a local merchant," said Jarvi, adding that this fact was almost overrided by the fact the difference in prices was so significant.
"It is a curious situation in that the contract was essentially given to Bob in the past and no one even looked into the options," said Jarvi.
Barry Hayes of Photographic Illustration by Barry Hayes was not aware Thursday night that the district is making its student photographs a competitive process.
"I think that's a very good thing. One thing I hope they do not do is go with a large out-of-state firm. I know from dealings and conversations that occasionally schools want the dreaded kickback word. That's how a lot of these large chains get the business," said Hayes.
The issue, said Hayes, is really a matter of "customer loyalty vs. 'these darn people won't try something new.'"
"Whether I get the assignment or not, I think it should be opened up. I've been in town for 14 years. It'd be nice to be able to compete equally. I have nothing personal against Bob, but I feel that I could offer at the same or better price a higher quality of work," said Hayes.
Neither Baker nor Messina were available for comment.