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How to Pass The School Bond

The board of education has some work to do.

Wow, two failures in a row for the Fenton School bond. I am both amazed and not amazed that it failed. A proper education is very important for not just Fenton, but for our country. However the school’s presentation to the community was woefully lacking in my opinion.

I know, the issue has no effect on me. But I thought to throw a little light on it from my experience. And to give advice to get it passed the next time around.

Other than my stitching of words together here in this electronic media called the Patch, some readers may wish to know more of my credentials to weigh in on this important matter. I am a parent with three children who attended public school in Michigan. They are all now grown and doing well. But that is no big deal, many people are parents with children who attended school. However, my teaching credentials include elementary, high school, college and adult education. I worked as a consultant for a county educational association for testing of students, was a member of a school district strategic planning committee and a member of a school superintendent advisory committee.

Let me put on my hat as a former taxpayer in Michigan and say there is very little I hate worse than a school district constantly throwing a bond proposal out there every time an election is held. The feeling is, “We want the money and we will pester voters until we get it.” If the district is constantly coming around with hat in hand it usually signals a problem beyond just money. I am also concerned with how much money school districts may waste, especially if we just keep throwing money at them when they ask. But what really pushes my button is when they threaten to eliminate sports if the voters don’t pass the millage for education. I realize that did not happen here this time.

Wearing my parent hat I always wanted the best education for my children. I paid taxes for it after all. And now that I am in Colombia I realize how fortunate Americans are to have a good public school system. Recently I spoke with some friends of mine who had to enroll their children in school. In Colombia if you want your children to get an education equivalent (or better) than what American students get for free you must put them in a private school. My friends are paying between $850 USD and $2,000 USD a month all year for their child’s education.

Switching to the educator hat I know that things constantly change and it is getting more difficult all the time to keep students in the competitive educational phase. Jobs are turning into a world market. Unfortunately the U.S. tax law is preventing our graduates from taking many of those jobs.

In looking at things from the business side, the philosophy of Return On Investment (ROI) must be shown. In business, and even in our own households, money going out is thought of for what it will return or save. Intelligent voters expect the same fiscal responsibility from the school district.

When running tests for the county school district I noted that students in the poor inter-city schools often out performed the rich schools, even though the latter had much more of the latest technology and toys. Throwing money at an educational system does not necessarily translate into a better education. It is more about how to correctly use what you have to achieve the objective of educating the student.

The second try of the bond intrigued me. The Patch article stated that they “tried” to get feedback from the community. What they decided on was the public did not want to pay for parking lots. My only way of knowing the thoughts of the voters was the comments on the Patch. What I got from their comments was voters were not against parking lots, they were interested in the ROI. There seemed to be a concern that the school district had not demonstrated it in their proposal. They wanted to know how the money would help education of the students.

Now what to do to get this thing passed next time. My thoughts are working from the position that the sole objective is to get the bond passed.

Part one - The board of education is elected by all the people and are to represent all the people, not just those with children in the school. Each and every member should be intimately knowledgeable with exactly how the money will be spent. They should understand how each purchased item contributes towards the object of education of the students, that the amount spent is within reason for what is received, and be able to prove an ROI. If a board member is not thoroughly convinced that each and every item is of value and gives an ROI then why should a voter believe it. Rather meaning all board members must be 100% in total agreement and willing to defend each expenditure amount and be able to justify it. If they have questions or if voters present them with questions they must get the answers even if it means going over financial reports or hounding a school administrator.

Part two – Fire the superintendent. As Mitt Romney, a man who downsized businesses to make then more profitable and cut off the credit cards of his aides on election night, might say, “Nothing personal, this is just good business.”

The person had two chances to get the job done and failed. This is the education of children, not baseball, so forget the third strike rule. Plus taking the removal action shows the voters that the board of education is serious about getting this bond proposal passed. And if they are serious enough to ditch the superintendent then they believe the bond is in the best interest of the community.

Part Three – Communicate with the voters. My impression on this is that previously you have been preaching to the choir; those with children in school. The “No” votes are more likely to come from citizens without sons, daughters or grandchildren in the Fenton school district. Demographics are changing. In many communities there is a lower percentage with homeowners with children and fewer children. There are also people who believe that these costly high tech gadgets are not necessary to learn.

The board’s job (not just the school but also the board) is to reach these voters and show them how everyone benefits, a win/win situation. They must demonstrate that the school has fiscal responsibility. For years school systems have used the students to get the word out. I noticed this time the school put a video on their website. But most likely the people who gave a thumbs down have pretty much made up their mind and are not going to take time to go to a video on a school website just to try and get their thoughts changed. The board and school must reach them other ways. In that respect the Fenton Patch is your friend. Do not expect that some reporter is going to came and talk with you and then do the research necessary and present things your way. Journalism is changing. Thinking old-school will just keep getting the bond defeated. The Fenton Patch has Local Voices to help you get your message out.

I recommend that each and every member of the board write an article for the Local Voices. These should be spaced one week apart and appear in the weeks leading up to the next vote. In the writing you should show how each of the items the money is being spent on will give the students a better education. For instance, I read wireless access in all the buildings. My thought is gee, now students can send each other the answers over their smartphones or that it is a great way for them to download music on the school’s money and higher speed servers.The job is to show people like me how the wireless contributes to improving education.

 nother part of each of the writings should include showing how the money is being well spent. Michelle English in her blog “3 reasons the Fenton School Bond did Not Pass,” wrote one reason was, "Misspent monies from previous bond(s)."

Newest board member, Drew Shapiro, is quoted as saying that he wants to help students create visions for successful futures in the real world. In his writing for Local Voices he needs to demonstrate how electronic whiteboards, servers, digital presentation tools, TV/video computer labs and all the other things will achieve that.

Now take particular notice how above I kept writing to “show” or “demonstrate.” I do not say to tell. For goodness sake whatever the board members do in their writings they should not insult the intelligence of the voter. That means to not use subjective comments telling the voter what will or will not happen nor to use fear. Avoid statements like, “If this is not passed our children will be left behind,” or “These are really needed so our students can learn.” Think Dragnet here; just the facts. For every insulting statement made similar to the previous ones, you take away from an advance made by a factually proven statement.

In the final week before the voters make their decisions is the time for the new superintendent to write his article. He should summarize what the board members said and to add his own assurances.

The clinchers – Here are three things you can do to help seal the deal with voters.

Fentonities will be more inclined to help if they know that the money will stay in the community. Be sure to mention any local businesses who will gain from the bond issue.

This one puts board members on the line. Writing the article is good PR for re-election to the board. Now show your commitment to the position by writing at the end of your Local Voices piece a guarantee or promise to the people. Something similar to, “I guarantee to carefully monitor the spending of the bond money so that it improves the educations of our students,” should work.

Give the voters transparency. This part is more for the new superintendent to do. He or she should state that as the money is spent they will post on the school web page a list showing what the money was spent for, who the money went to and how much was paid.

Probably 10% of the voters will vote against the bond issue no matter what you do. Becaue of the children 30% to 35% will give the bond the green light. That leaves you with 55% to 60% of intelligent voters that you need to demonstrate that the money is a sound investment in the education of the students. Focus on the objective of getting the bond passed, do not just go through the process and hope for the best, then blame others if it fails.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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