Board communications for tough times
July 28, 2009
Tips for communicating about budget reductions
Don't panic. Calm and collected leaders set the tone for all district employees and, to some extent, the community. A crisis can bring out the best in people, causing "background hum" to drop away, leaving them focused and ready to do what is needed.
- Remember that students need you to "keep the boat going" in the direction you've already set -- albeit with less money than you anticipated. You as a district can still make progress on student achievement.
Use your district's goals, vision and policies as your navigation chart to steer the district through this crisis. Keep them in front of you as you study your options and make your decisions, after you have gotten input from your staff and community.
- OSBA recommends that policies be updated on a five-to-seven-year cycle. If yours are out of date, contact OSBA Policy Services for assistance. Potential Policy Impacts in a Climate of Shrinking Resources (21k )
Listening is an important part of the process, so steel yourselves to take the heat. Never allow yourself to be drawn into arguments. Have your superintendent and business manager on hand and be prepared to answer budget and program questions. When you've moved on to taking questions, you are making progress.
Assure stakeholders that cuts will be made fairly -- no deeper than absolutely necessary and in accordance with the law, labor contracts, district goals and public input.
- Take every opportunity to present the facts to your publics clearly and honestly. Boards should begin holding public meetings as the possibility of cuts to programs or staff - or both - becomes a reality. Meet with your key communicator network as soon and as often as possible. If you don't have one, build one. Hold as many meetings as you need to ensure that the community has been heard. Send e-mails and written explanations that clearly show where your budget dollars come from, how they are spent, and how the economic situation will affect the schools. Get on radio shows. Blog. Make presentations at community meetings.
Support staff. Everyone suffers in this kind of economy. Your staff, to a person, will be feeling fearful and stressed. Make an effort to ease their worries. Reassure them and provide counseling and, if necessary, job-search services as you can.
Don't make promises. Change happens fast in a volatile economy, and you may not be able to keep yesterday's promise tomorrow.
Look to next year and set clear goals. This is important for your ability to function over the next several months. It also helps "spread" everyone's attention beyond immediate necessary measures onto planning for a better situation next year.
Engaging the community in budget development