Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Primaries are Over – Now What? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this topic, I suggested that now is the opportune time for trustees and public education advocates to initiate their efforts at the local level.  I recently had the privilege of attending a dinner hosted by the Fast Growth Schools Coalition at which Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, chairman of the House Public Education Committee, as we the speaker.  I have been fortunate to spend time in a number of meetings and presentations where the Chairman offered his view of public education and what he sees as the challenges that lie ahead.

In this blog, I’d like to highlight comments he made at this dinner and to offer encouragement that, with the proper focus and effort, there is a battle to be won.  Without question, we will not get everything that we want in an ideal public education world.  But we stand no chance of attaining the goals we set for public education without a strong grassroots effort to tell the positive story of public education.

What are some of the challenges according to Rep. Aycock?  At the top of the list is a focus on public debt and how public monies are being spent.  A second issue is that of transparency, an issues that seems to permeate the public education environment but not have the same level of focus for charter schools.  Third is student growth; this obviously has a direct impact on the first issue and how we provide facilities and other services to support the growth in student population.  It is certainly fair to ask how much debt is reasonable but that question has to be answered in the context of student growth.

What advice did he provide to us?  First is to focus spending on the classrooms and for districts to economize where they can; it will be difficult for legislators to challenge these efforts.  Rep. Aycock also suggested that districts need to continually challenge themselves to economize their operations.  A third main point of advice is to continue to build the public trust and involve the community in decisions and discussions about the direction of a district and public education in general.  Ultimately legislators and other elected officials are accountable to their constituents; do what you can to create trust and a positive public perception of the work being done in your local schools.

We have an opportunity over the next 10 months to articulate a powerful message to our elected officials.  Will it be easy?  Certainly not.  Will they be receptive to the message?  In many cases, they won’t but they likely will at least give you the opportunity to share your message with them; take advantage of that opportunity.  Finally, set a positive tone in your discussions with legislators.  They already hear a great deal of negative input from constituents.  Let’s do our part to send a positive, consistent message, a message that we are asking for their support to Make Education a Priority.

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