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What the School Bond Vote Can Teach Us

We, held the day
In the palm
Of our hands

They, ruled the night
And the night
Seemed to last
As long as six weeks…

– Goodnight Saigon, Billy Joel


One of the ways the Park City School Board failed in their attempt to pass a bond was in communication. This failure wasn’t due to lack of trying but perhaps more-so due to lack of imagination. The school board hired a communication expert (Panic Button Media) who did what experts have done in the past. They coordinated pieces to go into the Park Record. They coordinated appearances on KPCW. They word-smithed language to be disseminated. Yet, for whatever reason it just wasn’t enough.

If this was the Vietnam War, the Park City School Board would be the United States. Those in opposition to the bond instead fought a guerilla war.

The powers that be trotted out all the standard maneuvers. They had media appearances. They met with the Parent Teacher Organizations. Their supporters included influential members of the Park City Educational Foundation. They did what you are supposed to do when you are in command and control.

The opposition employed a different strategy. They went grass roots. Their weapons of choice were email lists. They utilized neighborhood websites like NextDoor. They attacked using Facebook. Perhaps more importantly, they were hyperlocal. If the bond passes, what will traffic be like at Ecker Hill? Shouldn’t we keep our middle school in Park City proper? Why are we investing in athletics when we should be investing in our child’s education? They won the hearts and minds.

Sure, the “soldiers” for the school district arrived at the village and tried to convince the people that they were right. However, when the soldiers left, the opposition’s message continued to resonate. In the end, the people said they couldn’t support those in charge and voted overwhelmingly to ask for another path.

I believe this is perhaps a wakeup call for the powers that be. Over the next few years, our local governments will be asking for another school bond. They’ll be asking more money for transportation. They’ll likely be asking for money for another field house. Unfortunately, the tried and true methods have shown that they crumble in the face of even a modest opposing force. And make no mistake, the victory over the School Board have emboldened the opposition on many fronts.

It will be interesting to see if new methods can be devised to truly win the hearts and minds of our community or whether the same-old-same-old will be trotted out in the hopes that it will work one more time.

I hope that the powers that be now understand that early communication, with complete open minds, is the only way to truly succeed.


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