I enjoyed last night’s school board listening post on the facilities master plan at Kirkwood Elementary School. About twenty people (and several district staff members) came out on a cold winter night to exchange views and ideas about the district’s building plans. (It was almost caucus-esque!) Two more listening posts are scheduled next week.
One thing I wish had been different, though: A listening post on the facilities master plan should not be preceded by a twenty-minute commercial for the facilities master plan. I understand that it’s helpful to present some information at the outset so people can have well-informed discussions, but it should not be presented in a way designed to influence the opinions we’ll hear from the participants.
The hard question facing the board is just what it takes to create a bond proposal that has a reasonable chance of attaining 60% approval at the polls. I was very curious to hear people’s opinions on that question last night. Of course, people who attend the listening posts may be particularly likely to favor the bond, but even those who most strongly favor the bond have to think objectively about how to maximize its chances of passage. If they voice their opinions only after sitting through a lengthy pro-bond argument, without hearing any of the likely counterarguments, they’re going to be in less of a position to realistically assess the prospects of different proposals.
Similarly, the group activities should not involve leading questions. (“Please share a short story of how the facilities project(s) have impacted your students.”)
I’ve written before about how our district sometimes seems incapable of soliciting public input without trying to manipulate it. Why walk right into that criticism?