Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2010’

  • School budget public forums dominated by familiar faces, opinions

    As the calendar pages turn and school districts find themselves up against deadlines for making budget decisions for next year, many are turning to public meetings in an effort to provide patrons a venue to share their thoughts about what should be cut and what should be saved.

    We’ve attended our fair share of these events – both professionally and personally – and find them to be generally of limited value in determining true patron opinion for two reasons.

    First, it’s difficult to structure such programs to provide everyone in attendance a comfortable method to share their opinions. Open microphones tend to draw the passionate, but keep the silent majority glued to their seats. Small discussion groups can be dominated by vociferous patrons, leaving the quieter ones in the dust. Even setting up stations where patrons can share opinions more one-on-one with district staff members is problematic.

    Second, those in attendance tend to be either the district’s “frequent flyers” who come to every such meeting, or the newly enraged who come itching to do battle, armed with a list of their favorite district programs in their back pockets. As such, most school district leaders can probably guess how the evening’s festivities will go, even before the doors open and the guests arrive.

    Make no mistake: Public forums can be an important part of a comprehensive program of data gathering, and they provide cover for the district against patrons who might say “Nobody ever gave me the chance to share my opinion.” But, making meaningful, life-changing decisions based on the opinions gathered at a couple of meetings at your high school’s cafeteria is a very risky proposition.

  • Bentonville uses strategy to turn 60% “no” into 60% “yes”

    One of the most common questions we receive after conducting a pre-election research study for a school district is, “How much movement, in terms of the number of supporters, is realistic to expect, if we run a great campaign?”

    The answer is not a simple percentage, but rather a combination of factors. How much time is there between now and Election Day? How deep is the hole that the district needs to climb out of, in terms of the level of support? Are there other circumstances that will add to the challenge – such as patrons expressing doubts about the abilities of the district’s Administration or Board of Education?

    In the best of situations, the biggest challenge is usually time. Moving apathetic voters into the “yes” column, and swinging enough “soft negative” folks to the positive isn’t something that’s easily accomplished in a few weeks. Our client, the Bentonville, Arkansas School District, knows that well.

    They ran a millage election in 2008, only to have 60% of the patrons vote “no.” We were called in early last year to find out why, and the results suggested that a large percentage of patrons simply didn’t know enough about the proposal or why it was necessary. So, they either stayed away or voted “no.”

    The district spent the entire year between the receipt of those results and Election Day this April trying to inform patrons and change minds, and it worked in a big way – a 20% swing from the negative to the positive.

    Superintendent Dr. Gary Compton credits the win on the strategy of creating a campaign committee with two distinct segments – one that dealt with parent and staff voters, and one that worked on getting the word out to non-district parents and non-staff members.

    These leadership team “bombarded the patrons with facts,” says Dr. Compton. Their tactics included the traditional approaches (such as neighborhood coffee meetings and lots of direct mail), but also made active use of social media to spread the word and answer questions. The key, he says, was to keep disseminating information and keep the message fresh so that patrons kept paying attention.

    Congratulations to Dr. Compton and his campaign team on their great success. Turning 20% of the patrons to the positive is an accomplishment anytime, but particularly in the current economy.

  • Advertising on school busses as a revenue enhancer? Oklahoma’s considering it.

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    The Oklahoma State Legislature is considering a measure that would allow school districts in the state to join their brethren in other states and sell advertising on the outside of their school busses. In cash-strapped times, it’s an idea whose time has come. Or has it? Read about it for yourself and weigh in: http://bit.ly/dCUiZJ

    We can see the revenue pros and the cons. What about you?

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