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VIEWPOINT: We are doing more than listening; we are hearing our community

Our district values and encourages collaborative partnerships with parents and community members. We seek and welcome feedback on issues facing our organization, and our School Board considers feedback in decision-making. Examples of the responsiveness of our board to community feedback include our Long Range Facility Planning, budget reduction process and levy decisions.

Long Range Facility Planning included stakeholders and community members from each school in our system. The committee determined the district’s facility needs for 10 to 15 years. Feedback was gathered after community meetings and through surveys to determine the final recommendations the committee made to the board. The board was updated on the committee’s work and considered the feedback prior to approving the final plan. The outcome was collaborative decision-making, and community members commending the process and final product.

Last school year, we identified the need to reduce our budget by $8 million. The reduction was partially a response to the continued funding issues the state faced over the last 10 years, and the goal of maintaining programs and services offered to students. The $8 million in reductions was needed to stay within our fund balance policy, which the board decided to spend down to preserve the quality of education students receive. We identified potential reductions and conducted community meetings to gather input. 

We received feedback from approximately 1,100 people. Two themes emerged that the board considered: “Ask us for what you need in terms of increased funding,” and, “Give us a chance to support the district through a levy election before deep cuts are made in programing for kids.” The board listened and reduced $4.6 million of the $8 million of identified reductions, and delayed the reduction of the final $3.4 million until after the 2015 election. The board directed administration to determine what amount of funding would be needed over the next 10 years to avoid cutting programs, eliminate deficit spending, address inflationary increases, and begin to move the district forward in recruiting and retaining a high-quality workforce. 

The budget reduction process began the board’s decision-making for the levy question. The first step was to determine how much funding was needed to maintain current programs and services and begin to move us forward. It was determined that $900 per pupil of additional funding was needed. A researcher then conducted a survey to ensure the data gathered was statistically significant and generalizable to the community. The survey gave us insights into what our community believed about our school district and how the board should think about the upcoming election. We heard positive support for the direction of the school district, strong support for teachers and historically high levels of support for the School Board and administration. We also heard the $900 per pupil cost was a concern.

The board ultimately reduced the per-pupil amount by tying the 2015 election to the 2017 election. The district has a levy that expires in 2017, which would need to be on the ballot that same year to be renewed. The board decided to ask for a portion of the $900 per pupil now and the remaining amount in 2017. The two-year process is a well thought-out decision giving us time to see how the economy progresses and what state funding may look like in the future. If positive changes occur, the board can re-address the amount needed in 2017.

Facility needs of the district are addressed in the bond questions. The board chose to divide the needs into two questions based on the priorities we have addressing our current and future growth needs. The two questions also give the community an opportunity to determine the level of support they may consider.

Giving our community choices and opportunities to collaborate and provide feedback is an essential element of our district. If some suggestions made by our community are not incorporated into the final solution, people may feel they have not been heard. I am confident we identify the most important issues we face, and that we’ve listened to and heard our community. Strong partnerships help our district become the outstanding school system we are today, and build a strong future for our students.

Thank you for your contributions to our district and for being an informed voter on Nov. 3.