How to organize a successful community legislative forum

By: Connie Potter, Director of Public Information, Forest Grove SD

When legislators arrived at Forest Grove School District's recent legislative forum, their surprise was obvious. Well over 300 people awaited them, filling every chair and standing several deep around the room.

The phenomenal turnout made a strong statement that stable school funding must be a priority in the 2003 legislative session.

It takes planning and hard work to inspire such a turnout. In this case, the school district worked closely with its citizen legislative committee, the Forest Grove Committee for Stable And Adequate Funding for Education (SAFE).

Some points to consider in planning large public events:

  • People must recognize the problem. The district made an ongoing effort to keep patrons advised of the budget situation and its impact on the community. The district newsletter, which is mailed to 14,000 postal patrons, regularly outlines the budget situation, including reductions made to date and those still ahead. The superintendent made presentations about the budget situation at staff meetings, area service clubs and other forums. The School Board offered regular budget updates at board meetings. Information was posted on the district's web site.
  • Involve the community. The district organized a citizen's legislative committee, recruiting a core of concerned parents and other community members. That group played an active role in promoting the forum - placing notices in church bulletins, talking to other parents and in keeping up a lively discussion on GroveNet, a free community email network.
  • Spread the word. The district started publicizing the legislative forum nearly two months before the event. Announcements were made at school board meetings, PTO meetings, staff meetings, service club meetings and other functions. Flyers were sent home with students. Information was posted on the district's web site and on GroveNet. Information was provided to local newspapers, who wrote numerous stories about the budget and about the forum.
  • Make it easy to come. Free child care was provided by members of the Forest Grove High School's National Honor Society. Translation also was provided for Spanish speakers. Coffee and cookies were provided.