The School Board Needs a Reboot (not a script rewrite). They Need to Pull It Apart and Put it Back Together.
When a TV series or movie is being resurrected from the dead like Battlestar Galactica or Dallas, there are generally two options. You can start it fresh with new ideas and out of the box thinking or you can simply tinker with the script. The cheap way out is the latter option, but the more successful path is usually to rethink the concept. From reading a recent Park Record article on the school board’s response to their bond defeat, it seems they may be only tinkering with the script.
The school board has stated it wants to understand why its $56 million bond proposal was defeated. According to board member Phil Kaplan, “The voters sent a message, and what that message is, isn’t clear.”
What’s clear is that the stunning defeat of the bond has left the board off balance.
The school board’s answer to trying to understand “the why” appears to be a voter survey. The problem with a survey is that they are notoriously hard to get right. First, the questions have to be crafted by professionals, in an unbiased way. Second, the survey has to be distributed in a representative way. Third, it’s not a quick process. I look at the “state of the county” survey that Summit County sends out to residents every couple of years. If I recall correctly, it is crafted by a university professor who has experience in asking the right questions in order to get valid results. Second it is mailed out to a couple thousand Summit County residents that have been deemed representative. Third, the process takes months and costs thousands of dollars.
If the school board decides to go down the survey route but doesn’t follow a similar process to the county, they are going to be using the same strategies that led them their disastrous bond outcome. If they make up the questions themselves, they will be subject to their own biases. If surveys aren’t distributed representatively, the data won’t be valid. If they demand an answer tomorrow, the answer they get will be wrong.
The other issue with a survey is that they will get lots of data points but probably miss the forest for the trees. One of the unexpected benefits of doing something like the Park Rag, is that I have learned to take criticism and hopefully become a better person because of it. I’ve been called an idiot. I’ve been laughed at. I’ve had my ideas torn part. People call some of my articles half baked. People say I don’t understand. People correct me all the time…. and I’ve learned to love the commentary and grow from it. Ultimately, it makes a better product. That is the same lesson that the school board needs to learn. Humility.
If I were the school board, and I decided to ask a survey on why the bond failed, I would include (among other questions) the following:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you trust the school board?
- If we engage in a $50 million bond effort to rebuild schools, do you trust the school board to spend your tax dollars wisely? Yes or No.
- In 2015 bond election, do you think the school board solicited enough public input? Yes or No.
Only through asking questions that can lead to harsh realities do we typically understand how we are truly perceived. Only from truly understanding how we are perceived, can we begin to lead.
What would I recommend that the school board do?
Begin by going on a listening tour. Talk to the people you hate right now. Be more like Tip O’neil and Ronald Reagan than like John Boehner and Barack Obama. Understand why the Citizens for Better Education opposed your viewpoints (and truly listen this time). Talk to the teachers and see why many of them voted against you. Hold town halls where you let people talk in an open ended format. Sit there, listen, and take it. Be tablarasa. Become better because of it.
My fear is that the school board seems to hold a view that they are undoubtedly right on all accounts and anyone who opposes them just doesn’t understand. In many ways listening to the school board feels like I am listening to Rush Limbaugh. When school board member Phil Kaplan says, “Does anybody not believe Park City is going to keep growing?,” trying to explain why we need the board’s plan… I say “Actually enrollment dropped in the schools this year by 0.5%. A lot of Park City’s growth is from second home owners who don’t have kids. Most parents of school aged children can’t afford a $800,000 house. Why do you conflate population growth with enrollment growth?”
As stated before I would like the school board to begin by talking to those who opposed them in order to get historical context for why their ideas failed.I would then like to see our community (including the school board) agree on two or three core issues we would like to solve. After that, town hall discussions, with no preconceived notions, should be held where people could talk about solving those issues. I would then like the outcome of those town hall meetings to drive options. I would like those options then presented back to the community where further discussions took place. Then I would like the school board to ultimately weigh all the information and decide on a course of action.
The Park City School Board should be more a judge of ideas than advocates.
Instead, what we had was the school board Master Planning Committee, made up of school board members, school administrator, teachers, school district staff, and two members of the public, talk for months in an echo chamber before the public was even engaged. Then when the public was engaged, it was handled like a Choose Your Own Adventure book with the predetermined path highlighted.
We have a great opportunity ahead of us. We are in a community that both values education and generally has the means to achieve it. We have well educated and experienced people everywhere, from our local business persons, to our civil servants, to those retired, to the lifty who would rather be reading Voltaire. We just need to take advantage of that natural resource.
I truly hope the school board will take another step back, scrap the survey idea, take a few more weeks off to clear their heads, meet with those opposed to the bond over coffee and/or beer, and start afresh with the community.
I really hope they find it in their hearts to pull it apart and put it back together.