Leveraging a Town Hall

Hari Titan's picture

Leveraging a Town Hall for Capital Improvements

I have spoken at many parents clubs about using an Electronic Town Hall to help the community identify our priorities. For example, I believe that capital improvement projects should be chosen based on actual needs and on creating the most educational benefit to students. Others may feel that the fund-raising community (e.g. the Ed Foundation) is better able to prioritize projects based on what is easiest to get donations for. Projects chosen the latter way have at times polarized the community especially when they barely pass the required minimum 55% of voters.

If parents and educators had a mechanism to directly influence the prioritization of capital improvement projects, we should end up with some projects that are supported by a larger majority of the community. Going forward with these initiatives would not polarize the community. As a long-term strategy the District needs to stay friends with the taxpayers who need to renew the parcel tax in 2020.

The town hall mechanism I am proposing would attract parents to weigh in on issues based on their varied amounts of free time, their interests and knowledge of the topics of the day. If the project is doing well with the first groups of parents who use it, it is more likely to expand and do well with the broader public. And open discussions over time are more likely to give issues time and space to develop, and so are less likely to attract strongly dissenting reactions in the press. The electronic town hall would also create an institutional memory with no issues around “lack of disclosures”.

Another way we can leverage this town hall is to help decide on the amount of capital expenditure we'd like to make and the tradeoffs between competing projects. If the School Board has decided on a project to pursue, we can again leverage the same active community to help decide what level of renovation is necessary, what aspects of the renovation are most important, and what type of financing arrangement is best for the community.

Many past candidates for School Board have expressed an interest in greater transparency, greater accountability and more public input. The only way I can see to achieve these goals and be able to manage the volume of communications to and from the School Board is to employ Web 2.0 technologies.

Addendum:

School District creates App for parents to communicate with each other: http://www.piedmont.k12.ca.us/blog/2015/02/12/announcing-the-pusd-switch...

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