May 8, 2015
It’s a common tale, school districts are sure that everyone in the community is aware of what’s going on in the schools. But then a community satisfaction survey is done and hardly anyone is aware of what’s going on and they are usually frustrated with how the district is spending their money.
So how do you change this perception and get real information into the hands of your constituents? The answer is a constant stream of targeted communication.
For example, in 2007 Piqua City Schools were sure that everyone in the community knew about the $3 million in cuts that they enacted due to two consecutive operating levy loses. Regardless, the district fielded a high quality, third-party professional survey that would not only gauge the community’s satisfaction with their schools but also awareness on issues like the district’s $3 million in cuts.
The survey results surprised the Piqua City Schools. According to the survey only 37 percent knew about the cuts and only 35 percent thought they did a good job of spending money. Communication had to change and quickly. So, Piqua started working with Allerton-Hill Consulting. The district overhauled their communication strategy. They began sending out more information and on a steady basis on topics that the community cared about – finances. Moreover, the district was strategic in their engagement and formed community committees. They shared regular information through newsletters, mailers and media outlets and built a better understanding among their community for what was really happening in the schools.
The shift in community awareness and district pride were noticeable. The community understands the challenges that the schools are facing and how that impacts the residents. They also understand that the district is incredibly efficient and careful with its resources. In fact, over the course of the next seven years, the district increased by leaps on the fiscal trust and awareness survey question. Specifically, number of taxpayers who believe the district is doing a good job of spending money has increased by 23 percentage points (from 35 percent to 58 percent). For a public entity, 58 percent is a strong and high number to achieve on a survey.
Success with the ongoing community dialogue on finances also led Piqua from several ballot box loses to a streak of multiple public initiatives including a 10-year income tax, a $65 million bond issue and two Permanent Improvement renewals.
Engaging in continued communications about district priorities and finances is critical for any community. In the case of Piqua City Schools, the district was respectful of the community and talked with them about what they cared about – namely, finances. Thanks to the help of Allerton-Hill Consulting, and through constant community engagement, Piqua CSD gained the trust and support of their residents.