Allerton Hill Blog

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Category: Budget & Finance

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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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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Criteria to Consider When Deciding to Seek Funding from the Public

April 5, 2014

While governments make decisions about seeking sales taxes, operating levies and bond issues that are driven by needs or necessities, a consideration that is often overlooked is whether the opinion environment is propitious enough for such requests to be viable. Need alone does not ensure success. Although public opinion polling and other forms of research are essential for making decisions about what the public wants or will support, based on years of experience assisting local governments, such as cities, counties, school systems, human services providers and transit agencies, Fallon Research has formulated a list of other factors that it recommends for considering before placing an issue on the ballot:

Financial Resources Available – Paradoxically, in the information era, waging campaigns for public approval has become more expensive and difficult. Consulting with the campaign chairman to determine the prospective outreach campaign budget prior to formally announcing a tax request can avert unpleasant surprises and help develop reasonable expectations about how much money is needed and must be raised;

Human Resources Available – Have a clear understanding of what kind of volunteer force is willing and available for fundraising, delivering pamphlets and signs, and door-to-door public engagement. Don’t forget to take into account the time of year, such as the effect of weather, which can dampen spirits;

Timing – Perhaps, the most important – and overlooked – consideration, it is imperative to evaluate the effect of voter turnout, such as what types of voters will participate in a particular election and what proportion of them fits the profile to support your request. It also is important to know what other levy requests will be on the ballot at the same time, so there is an understanding of how much competition there is for donations, volunteers and, most importantly, the attention of voters & beleaguered taxpayers;

Opposition – There are 2 types! Organized opposition is the most feared, and should be addressed strategically, but local governments also should use opinion research to assess passive opposition, such as that emanating from the economy, sensitivity to taxes or a lack of clarity about why money is needed;

Access to Media – Seemingly self-evident, but don’t fall prey to the misperception that this is merely about advertising money or paid access to the airwaves, which can sometimes be limited by law. Studies show that many voters still get decisive information from the news media, so assess your relationships with reporters;

Partners – Before making any assumptions, sound out essential strategic partners and stakeholders, such as affected industries or groups, to make sure they are poised to support your request, have a clear understanding of what is at stake for them, and will provide material assistance for outreach efforts;

Attitudes of Opinion Leaders – Major employers, unions, newspaper editors and high ranking elected officials all communicate with large groups of people and hold positions of influence that can be critical, even if they don’t endorse your issue or financially support it. They can also help manage the local political “echo chamber” of conventional wisdom that dooms many requests before voters ever get their say. Sometimes just placating elites, so they do not become adversaries, can be essential to success;

Simplicity – Distilling concepts down to messages that are easy to convey, and comprehend, is a task that stymies many efforts, because it is tempting to say too much, at the expense of clarity, or the wrong things, which fail to rouse the public. Deciding why services – and which ones – are important to the public is a vital function of opinion research that can simplify the process by developing a hierarchy of priorities.

 Originally Posted on FallonResearch.com »

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Posted in Budget & Finance, Education
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How to communicate effectively about school budgets

January 9, 2013

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.

 Read the Full Article on SmartBlogs.com »

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Posted in Budget & Finance, Community Outreach
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