Doom and gloom not the best communications strategy

It’s tempting for school district leaders to ratchet up the language when talking to patrons about the impacts of this budget crisis on students, staff, families and the community. For the short- and long-term health of the district/patron relationship, however, it’s wise to take a breath and consider the strategic implications before making any dramatic pronouncements.

Savvy school districts have brought their patrons along for the ride as they took a look at next year’s checkbook and began slicing here and dicing there. While many patrons are smarting today because their pet program was not spared, at least they know that the district sweated bullets making these decisions. They have seen the school district doing what they have had to do around their home, if this economy has affected them, and it’s created empathy like no time in recent memory.

To turn around and use hyperbolic language – even if such language might be the most accurate way to describe the potential changes coming in the future – changes the relationship at a time when school districts have patrons’ advocacy.

Instead, make the language matter-of-fact and let the reader, listener or viewer draw his or her own conclusion about the significance of the situation. There’s no need to say “class sizes might grow by five or more students, meaning less personal attention, if we need to cut 30 more teachers.” Just saying “the future may require 30 additional cuts in the teaching staff, which will lead to larger class sizes” will get the same message out there without the shock language that patrons will easily conjure up on their own – without the district’s help.