Here is a scenario that you may be familiar with. Trouble is brewing in a local school district. Like many districts, it is experiencing declining student enrollment. Because of projections, the district is considering closing schools. You can feel the tension growing in the community.
Policies and cutbacks at the state level have put increasing pressure on local school district budgets, prompting program and service cuts and an increase in property taxes. Taxes have also increased over the past 20 years as the community has been supportive of the district, passing referendums and building several new schools. However, people are now confused as to why the new schools were necessary, given that other schools may now need to be closed.
The Board recently surveyed the community asking them to select their preferred options for dealing with declining enrollment. The results were as follows:
– 1st choice was to close 2 specific small elementary schools
– 2nd choice was to do nothing
– 3rd choice was to close one middle school and add a 6th grade to all elementary schools
– 4th choice – and by far the least popular option, was a bond referendum for an extensive middle school renovation
Just four weeks after the survey results were released, it was announced that the board would most likely pursue a bond referendum. Say what? Not surprisingly, this is causing “confusion” to community members who felt they had clearly expressed their displeasure for a possible bond referendum.
What we have here is a failure to communicate.
The referendum may well be the best option. However, without clear communication and rationale, the board has left community members feeling disenfranchised and frustrated. This, in turn, makes it a lot less likely that a referendum would ultimately pass. Kudos to the district for attempting to get input and community involvement, but I can’t help but think that the district created a problem for itself by how it went about this. In highly emotional issues like this, It is not enough to just get input – how you go about getting it and what you do with it matters.