Improving Accountability and Communications in District 112

In my post on why the technology referendum failed, I promised some ideas on how I think the Eastern Carver County School District could improve relations with voters.  Here’s the first of those ideas — improving how the District communicates with residents, and thereby making it easier for people to understand what is going on in the District.

Here’s an example.  (The point here is just to use this as a sample, not as a particular criticism of the people responsible for this document.)

Every year, the District publishes an Annual Report on Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Achievement.  It’s about a 20-page document that goes into some detail about the initiatives that are underway.  It’s a good document.  But how many parents take the time to read it every year?  How many non-parents read it or understand the efforts that are being made to raise student achievement?

There’s no reason that this document can’t be boiled down into a format that’s easier to understand and gives folks a quick read on what is happening.  I took about an hour and synthesized the report into a two-page executive summary that hits the critical points and is easier to read.

Ideally, it would be even better to move the first section to a format that shows specific, measurable goals for each level and the progress against them for the previous year.  But this is a start.

The same sort of logic can be applied to the financial information that the District provides.  There’s a lot of information on the District website that talks about thepotential budget cutsthat were considered last spring, but not a lot of information about what the actual spending amounts in each category are.  Given the referendum results, more data about how our property tax burden breaks down between operating funds and debt service would be useful.

The School Board also has responsibility here — there’s no reason that complete minutes of Board meetings shouldn’t be published online.  The Summaries that are provided give no real flavor of what occurred at the meeting — they don’t even list who voted for or against given agenda items.  There’s also ample reason to think that meetings should be recorded for online viewing.  A few of the School Board meetings have made it to vimeo — they all should going forward.

These sorts of actions — proactively looking to get information out to the community — are just the sorts of initial (and relatively easy) first steps the District can take to reach out to those who sent a message on Election Day.


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