College marketing contract approval delayed by panel
Members of the Legislative Interim Finance Committee voted Thursday to hold off any approval of the Treasurer’s office marketing contract with Amplify Relations, questioning what the college savings and other programs are getting for the money.
Treasurer’s office officials asked lawmakers to add $100,000 more to the contract, bringing the total this year alone to $827,000.
“I’m left sitting here with a low comfort level because I’m not exactly sure what all the efforts are translating to,” said Assemblywomen Teresa Benitez Thompson, D-Reno. “It looks like a lot of work is being done but I guess I’m not seeing a return on investment.”
She said for that amount of money, “I would hope we would be hearing in the same breath, ‘look how dynamic enrollment has been.’” But she said lawmakers have no information about whether the contract is generating added enrollment in the various programs by parents and pupils.
The marketing program serves the Pre-paid College Tuition, College Kick Start, 529 College Savings and Millennium Scholarship programs.
Thompson was joined by Assemblyman Derek Armstrong, R-Las Vegas, who asked what results the state would get for increasing spending.
Chief Deputy Treasurer Tara Hagan, told the panel without the added money, “we don’t have the funding to move forward.”
“We will not be able to continue that activity (outreach, education and marketing) without these funds,” she said.
She said that would cancel an outreach session for Hispanic women about the programs planned for Reno in May.
Thompson objected saying, “you’re giving the committee the impression there will be no conferences unless this enhancement is considered.” She said the office has money for three other conferences, a general session in Reno and another in Las Vegas plus a special conference for Hispanic women in Las Vegas.
And Assemblyman Steven Silverkraus, R-Henderson, pointed out the Reno Hispanic conference could be moved to June or July.
But Armstrong objected to the process the treasurer used, asking how the office had managed to sign a contract with Amplify Relations without having authorization from the IFC.
“You have to ask for authority to enter this contract before it’s made,” he said. “Now you’re telling me you can’t fulfill the contract that wasn’t authorized.”
Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, also objected to the fact the contract was signed before the Treasurer got authorization. She said there was ample time to bring the issue to lawmakers in the 2015 session.
Assembly Majority Leader and IFC Chairman Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas, said delaying a decision until the June IFC “isn’t going to stifle the whole program.”
The contract was first questioned in November after Amplify Relations was selected using an in-house RFP review process.
The issue was raised after the Appeal received an email by Amplify Relations President Bryan Bedera to his staff saying “we have been asked to bid the Nevada’s Treasurer’s College Savings program marketing campaign.”
“We have been (sic) a 2-week jump and a huge information advantage on our competitors,” the email states. “This is our project to lose.”
Chief of Staff Grant Hewitt said in a November interview he didn’t believe Bedera had any advantage.
He said what Bedera described as the treasurer’s “wish list” were things Amplify would already know from its previous contract with the Treasurer’s Office and the RFP process was up front.
The Treasurer’s Office was asked to return to IFC in June with specifics about what the contract is supposed to accomplish and what any additional funding would do for parents and pupils who are in those college funding programs.