Yes, Change IS Hard

Q: How many board members does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: “WHAT!!?!?! CHANGE?” they gasp in horror
No one is going to win as long as there is a divide between the board and the community. It would be great if it were as easy as “we need to educate people,” or, “we need to reach more people,” to pass a referendum as Carol Carstensen has suggested. But that does not appear to be the case.
The issue is not educating, it is persuading people that the board’s strategies are the best options. That cannot be done until all options are on the table with accurate, verifiable, comparative costs and impacts presented so that people can join the board and the administration in supporting its strategies.
This has not happened and, based on the last school board election and the referendum votes, more mailings and radio ads with the same positions is not likely to get more support for the board or its choices.
Using committee meetings to denounce members of the board and citizens who care enough to come to meetings as enemies of public education is not a step forward, either. Particularly when the bashing is based on assumptions rather than fact, as in Juan Lopez’s decision to bash Barb Schrank. Apparently Mr. Lopez was unaware that Barb voted yes on all three questions AND openly urged others to do so. Just how does attacking her publicly win him support for his stated cause?

Similarly, militant speeches that take a tone that “people voted against the referendum so let’s punish them with draconian cuts” is pushing the supporters needed to pass the referendums away. Nor are hostile speeches advocating “close an East Side school” because the Leopold referendum didn’t pass going to build support for Leopold. Especially when the near East and near West sides voted heavily FOR Leopold. By this logic, why not punish Fitchburg, where the total votes were against – not for – the Leopold expansion?
As for the suggestion that we are complaining without giving the board clear options, the record will show that many of us HAVE come forward with clear, viable plans despite the current president’s statements to the contrary. And we have reminded the board that that is the case. In some instances those plans have clearly stated objectives and cost savings analyses. In others, the ideas are put forward as a request to consider with little or no response and certainly no follow up discussion.
At this point, many of us would settle for the board discussions ANY of the choices – theirs, mine, or others. To get a sense of what this statement means, go back and find the hard work on the budget and options for cuts/alternatives to referendum in board minutes and board committee minutes. If the discussions are happening, they are not happening in public. Either way, this is a loss for everyone.
Simply put, many people who support public education would like to see change that begins with meetings devoted to discussion of clear proposals – with costs and details included – rather than passive listening to administration power point presentations. When the board gets past speeches and down to the ideas and facts, they will have a chance at persuading voters that their strategies are viable.
Until we see a return to civility and issue-focused debate rather than character assassination, we will see the gap between board and voters grow rather than shrink.

6 thoughts on “Yes, Change IS Hard”

  1. Change lightbulbs?!? We don’t have any lightbulbs!?! Isn’t that why we went to referendum??? Ha, Ha, Ha!!!
    P.S. Yes, Change Is Hard! But hopefully the district and board members will start.

  2. Lucy,
    I’m missing it. I’m not understanding the difference between:
    “…it is persuading people that the board’s strategies are the best options…”
    “If the discussions are happening, they are not happening in public”
    & lack of a link in defining
    “The issue is not educating”…
    “we need to reach more people,”
    I’m really not trying to throw your words back at you. I’m truly just not getting the difference. To me, they are one in the same. The problem really is:
    #1. a lack of understanding
    #2. a publics lack of interest
    #3. a public uneducated on the systems in place
    I’ve had to go to meetings and gave up my family, personal time and business success to better my understanding and education because I was interested.
    Discussion are not being held in public…you’re absolutely right; well they are but you have to drive to Doyle to hear them…so why is “lack of communication” being snuffed at as poor PR?
    I think Johnny’s idea of a newsletter, Carol’s idea of TV broadcast and the board interest in community task forces and public forums are great!
    It’s all related and it is communication.
    I don’t want to have to ‘persuade’ anyone. I want the public to have the information in their hands and at their finger tips. I don’t want to have them influenced by one side or the other. I want them to be able to participate and come to a concensus…which most will if given information. Right now, we have to attend meetings and give up our lives. We are not the ones paid to do that. It all should be readily available.
    Did you know, statistically speaking, a person needs to be provided the information 7 times before they will recognize it and fully understand it. It’s also been proven that the more senses (taste, feel, see, hear and smell) are involved in the teaching process, the more a person retains the information given.
    With that….how do we get more involved and how do we get the citizens not currently in our schools (singles, couples & young families) involved so we can help them take us through the future, increase funding by increasing public school attendance and maintain a good educational MMSD?

  3. Marisue,
    I think a really terrific tool is this website. Wouldn’t it be great if every PTO bulletin or school newsletter would provide a link– it’s the first click that makes a difference in accessing information and generating dialogue.
    Look, everyone is busy. I’m grateful to those who give of their time to sit on the board and/or to attend the plethora of meetings. But other than cable access which favors insomniacs like myself, most of us don’t have the time or the energy to trek down to the administration building.This site is the place in my humble opinion.
    That said, I really appreciate reading your posts. While we may not always come down on the same side, I’m glad to have unfiltered access to your views.Thanks for your commitment.

  4. I don’t know much about communication, but it seems to me that repetition helps only so much. After that it is ineffective communication if it doesn’t achieve the intended results. While it is true thet repetition does help to embed messages, the messages must be persuasive to work in this case. Clearly the public is not finding the messages to be persuasive.
    Again, I don’t know much about communication but it seems to me that good baseline information is important, more so at this time because of the traditionally poor quality of information coming out of the district/board.
    No matter how good the baseline information is, however, it also has to be presented in a way that persuades the audience that the respective strategy should be supported. Too often the theme of the message is “we know, you don’t; we don’t need to back up our arguments because we’re right and anyone who questions our logic is against the children.” Certainly the un-checked willingness of the board to engage in personal attacks on anyone who doesn’t get in line is unhelpful to say the least.
    I think we do differ in our opinions. I believe that people who question the board’s practices and decisions understand all too well what is happening in schools and the consequences. In many cases, that understanding is honed on years of practical professional experience in public policy and finance. The questions and challenges that are being made are in many – granted not all – cases obvious questions to anyone who follows public policy.
    Simply put, the budget documents the absence of recognizable policy documents (vs.power point cartoons), the lack of board discussion, the lack of obvious link between evaluation of efficacy and budgetary allocation is simply not in line with current best practices. Nor would many public policy professionals understand the disconnect between the district’s public education mission and budget choices that heap the cuts on school staff and resources while other significant parts of the budget remain untouched.
    Simply put, we are all talking past each other. One side accepts the district budget as the best possible budget and believes that anyone who has a different analysis just doesn’t understand or doesn’t have information. The other side, at least the side I’m on, is armed with a good deal of competent analysis and experience that points toward other directions in budget policy and doesn’t appreciate the untested assumption that we can’t read a budget (I represent myself on this part of it.)
    Dialogue and progress does not take place in an absence of openness, dialogue, and above all respect. And that is where we are at now, so I too appreciate the blog because it stands as a rare point of neutral ground.

  5. Marisue,
    I have to agree with Lucy. These are not the underlying problems:
    #1. a lack of understanding
    #2. a publics lack of interest
    #3. a public uneducated on the systems in place
    The referendum failed for three reasons in my humble opinion:
    #1. A strong suspicion that a second building on the Leopold site did not represent the best available option.
    #2. Lack of confidence that the Board, administration, and Leopold supporters had thoroughly explored all available options.
    #3. General lack of confidence in most things done by the Board and the administration.
    How will we collectively address these three issues? #1 & #2 might be addressed by a task force that looks at ALL the options. #3 might be addressed by 1)a transparent budget process that produces a real budget, and 2)decision-making that recognizes that a) the MMSD is not “the best school district in the nation,” b) considers ALL the options, c) seeks input from the public, engages in a dialog with the public, and d) reassess decisions after they’ve been implemented.

  6. Lucy,
    Thanks…as I said, I really just wanted more details on the differences between different words that I, personally, deem similiar and interchangable…
    I think I now get it…if I might place myself on a limb. I’m not naive BUT…I have also not experienced the “repetition” of failure. That is except in my experience with Leopold, where I feel we are doing it all over again.
    I agree repetition, if experienced often, can be viewed as ineffective communication.
    Thanks for not taking my words personally and truly as they were meant…I wanted more insight and I got it and I can certainly accept an ‘unexperienced’ label more than that of “naive”. This is my first 6 months of getting involved.

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