Allerton Hill Blog

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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why are students not attending your Public School?

May 27, 2014

We call them ‘our kids’. We in public schools like to think of the children who live in our school district as our kids and right or wrong, we don’t much like sharing them with other districts or schools.   In our minds, open enrolled students and those who attend community schools or parochial schools, even though some do not ride on our busses or walk our hallways or take a seat in our classrooms, are technically ‘ours’. They are ours in the sense that we are responsible for their education. We offer an educational program that we believe is high in quality, so when they choose another district over ours, it’s no small matter. We must wonder why.

KidsRunning-chess

There are numerous reasons why parents choose to send their children to schools other than the public school district where they reside. These are not likely to be easy decisions for them since it typically results in separating kids during the school day from kids next door and down the street – neighborhood friends. It sometimes requires the parents to provide their own transportation as well. Still, in spite of any inconvenience, thousands of families choose this path every year – for some reason.

Before examining all the factors that families may consider when they make a choice about enrollment, let’s first look at why we, as public schools, should care about the result of such decisions.

The financial impact to school districts is often significant.   State funding allocated to public schools includes line items for open enrollment and community schools (added funds and/or subtracted funds). Funds (around $5,000 per student) are deducted for each student who attends another public school district either through open enrollment or community school attendance. For students coming to us from other school districts, funds are added to our settlement sheet.

Twice a month when these allocation sheets are posted on the ODE website, district financial managers take stock of the school district’s net position. If the school district accepts open enrolled students, they may either end up with a net positive position (more students coming in than leaving), a neutral position (approximately the same number of kids going out as there is coming in) or a negative position (fewer students coming in than leaving).

Besides the potential brunt of losing funds because our students aren’t attending our schools, there is another factor that is equally concerning. Our kids and their families are an essential part of our community.   The connection between our schools and our community forms a circle of support. When families with children reside in our district but don’t have a connection with our schools, there is disruption to the support flowing both from the community to the school and from the school to the community.

When the net funding position of enrollment factors is negative, especially if it is decidedly negative, and the flow of support between schools and community is unsettled, it is time to assess, analyze and act.

Action must come in the form of outreach to families of students who leave our district for the halls of another school. Why are they not attending our schools?   What factors did they consider when they made this choice?   Do they have good information about our schools? Where does their information about our schools come from?   Questions such as these must be posed to Dads and Moms before we can take the steps towards bringing our kids home.   With some effort and engagement, we can expect that more of our kids will consider us their district.

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Posted in Budget & Finance, Community Outreach, Education
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How School Business Officals should be communicating to the public

May 5, 2014

When I became a Treasurer I knew that I would have to report financial information to the Board of Education at least monthly, discuss finances with the Superintendent when needed and communicate/explain our fiscal situation to bargaining units at negotiation time. No big deal, right?

What I never considered was the impact that my communications skills would have on the community that I serve in this role. For better or worse, gone are the days when most community members had no idea, or cared very much how district funds were spent. No longer are we blindly trusted to do the right thing. Whether this lack of trust is deserved or not is really beside the point. Voters who decide on new or continued local taxes expect details on how we use their money, and more than ever we Treasurers and other business officials are serving folks who expect accountability and require direct answers to their questions. In order to maintain our credibility with the electorate, it is critical that we are able to satisfy this need.

Here are some basic rules that I believe are worth thinking about when it comes to communicating as a school business official.

#1. Honesty, even if the news isn’t good, is absolutely essential when disclosing information. The media and members of the public can spot a phony or someone who is fudging the facts a mile away, and as in any relationship, once trust is lost, it is nearly impossible to get back. There is no fact so bad that it is better to sugar coat it (or worse) and end up losing trust.

#2. Don’t be defensive. I know this is easy to say but often difficult to do when a public records request or a call for information appears to be questioning our judgement or ethics. Still, by doing our jobs well and willingly disclosing information to anyone who requests it, we establish and justify the confidence we need from our community.

#3. Remember that information doesn’t belong to us. With very few exceptions, what we know is what the community is entitled to know.

#4. Tap into the kids. This is huge for me. At my district we have a different building make a presentation at each Board of Education meeting. I don’t care if is the cutest little kindergartener or a geeky high school student, being around the kids, even if it is only once a month for a few minutes, helps me to remember why I have this job. I recently read a bio from one of my peers that stated that he is the ‘chief financial officer for 3500 kids’. I had never thought of it that way before. I always think of being responsible to the Board or the voters, but looking at the faces of and listening to the voices of kids singing or reading at the Board meetings or just excitedly talking about the puppy who visited their classroom recently brings me a sense of purpose far beyond just answering to the Board of Education. KIDS – the reason we do what we do!

#5. Enjoy being a public servant. I know that public servants are not always held in the highest of esteem these days. Let’s face it – a few have brought that disrespect on themselves. But I believe that having a job that is supported by the taxpayers – many who struggle to pay their taxes and still have money left for their families – is an honor. It makes me proud and reminds me to do the best job possible for those folks who pay their taxes and count on me work hard to educate kids with their money.
We school business folks may not all be blessed with the skills to be eloquent speakers or effective writers, but we all have the ability to be honest and humble and cordial when we communicate with anyone in the course of our jobs. That’s really all most folks expect from us. No big deal, right?

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Posted in Education
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Showing that your school district is frugal with tax dollars means highlighting the small savings as well as the big ones.

May 2, 2014

There is a definite art to effective financial school communications. Communications on the financials are frequently given the least attention by public school districts yet this is an area that should remain in the forefront of all communications.

In an era of government mistrust and in a time of 24/7 news cycles, there is an expectation from citizens that schools talk about the financial state of the district. In fact, virtually all school district surveys we’ve seen recently show that citizens expect stricter budgeting and strong financial management from their schools. That doesn’t mean simply putting up the five year forecast on the district website hoping people will read it. It means providing citizens with information that is communicated frequently, topical and is presented in an easy to understand manner.

What does “easy to understand”mean? It means that the financials should be written so that it is clear why the public should care. For example, as the sluggish economy continues to impact many school district residents, they are making tough decisions about family budgets to make ends meet. The expectation is that schools should be doing the same – and many of you are –you just have to make sure your residents know about it. Start your communications with: “Just like you, we are feeling the challenge of these economic times and continue to look at ways of reducing our overall budget.”Are you participating in fuel consortiums? Are your buildings recognized for being energy efficient? These stories resonate with the public because it is a relatable action that they themselves do to save money.

Sometimes we get pushback from treasurers/school businesses people because these types of savings are minimal when you are talking about a multi million-dollar budget. Don’t underestimate the power of perception. If your goal is to communicate that you are good stewards of the public dollar, stories about turning down the heat in non- essential areas and shutting off lights in classrooms that are not being used are solid facts that prove strong fiscal management is a priority. It is a tool in earning the public’s trust.

When it comes to communicating major financial information, such as the five-year forecast, it should be accompanied by a well written, on point news release or a guest editorial from the school district treasurer. Bullet point summaries, graphs and graphics accompanied by short explanations are always the best way to simplify complicated financial information. Every district newsletter should include a financial update and all districts should consider producing an annual financial report.

One note of caution – all school districts should be wary of falling into what sometimes occurs which is that “any communications is good communications.”In other words, “if we just put any and everything all out there, then we are doing a great job with communications.”Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, what will occur is that those wanting information will become frustrated and others simply will not tune into what the district communicates on finances because it is all haphazard.

Communicating the financial state of the school district is critical to building trust in a time of constant scrutiny. Your goal should be to ensure frequency, clarity, and most importantly, for those communications to build a narrative that proves you are mindful of taxpayer funds. Communicate it correctly and you are sure to gain the public’s support.

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Posted in Budget & Finance, Community Outreach, Education
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One Ohio School Superintendent’s Effort to Extend His Reach to His Community Through Twitter

May 2, 2014

As a school superintendent effective, accurate and engaging communication is essential. We must reach our constituents — parents, students, teachers, community members, grandparents — where they are and when they want information. There is no single way to effectively “reach” everyone; we must be active, nimble and persistent.

 Read the Rest of This Article by Allerton Hill's Joel Gagne on Huffington Post »

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Posted in Community Outreach, Education, Social Media
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