The League of Women Voters of Los Alamos has just released its position statement on education.
Recently elected County Councilor Susan O’Leary was the lead on the project.
“It was a nine month project with about 12 League members participating,” O’Leary said. “We looked at communication between the school board (elected body) and citizens. The bulk of our research was looking at other school districts around the country and identifying good examples of communication between the two groups. The position recommends an optimal communication approach for the Los Alamos Public School Board to ensure that voters are educated and have the opportunity to participate in decision making on high level strategic direction and financial decisions.”
O’Leary explained that the reason the strategic plan is so important is that it defines the goals and financial decisions of the school district, and the process of developing the strategic plan gives the school board an opportunity to involve parents and other community members in the goal setting.
“This project focused specifically on the strategic plan and financial information of the district,” O’Leary said. “What the League is recommending is for the school board to establish a communication plan that facilitates information sharing between the board and the community.”
The website is the most cost effective way for schools to communicate this kind of information to the public, she said.
“Our research identified one of the school districts (Cheyenne Mountain School District) similar in size and scope to Los Alamos that is doing this effectively,” O’Leary said.
The Cheyenne Mountain School District is in Colorado Springs and its website may be viewed by clicking here.
LWVLA Education Position (Adopted 2015)
The League of Women Voters of Los Alamos believes that a strong, collaborative relationship between K-12 education leaders and citizens must exist in order for the school district to successfully deliver education services meeting community standards. This belief is consistent with the League of Women Voters expectations for the relationship between citizens and all government entities.
As an elected body, the School Board should actively solicit and weigh heavily community input when making strategic planning and funding decisions. In order for citizens to provide educated and meaningful feedback, they need to be involved in the strategic planning process and have access to information about the district’s direction, the issues it faces, and its financial situation.
The strategic plan describes how the School Board addresses the needs of the children, including but not limited to academic goals, class size, enrichment programs (i.e., art, music, and athletics), vocational training, special education, and counseling. The strategic plan also discusses the facilities plans, enrollment trends, current financial budget, 5-year financial forecast, community involvement plan, and public communication plan.
In order for the School Board to solicit and incorporate community input into their strategic planning and annual budgeting processes, communication mechanisms need to be created and maintained as an essential part of the board’s business activities. Examples of communication mechanisms that achieve this objective are: community surveys; a formal strategic planning process that incorporates citizen input; an Open Forum-type online feedback service; Facebook and other social media; and smaller district meetings between school board members and constituents.
In order for the community to learn about and participate in strategic planning and funding decisions, the School Board needs to routinely provide relevant information to the public as a normal part of the board’s business activities. That information would include: issues, options and data provided in advance of decision making deadlines; reporting on decisions made; and access to key policy documents like budgets and the strategic plan.
The LAPS website should be the board’s primary communication vehicle. To be effective, it needs to have the following characteristics: easily found, accessible 24×7, and possessing a robust search capability. Examples of other communication mechanisms that can be utilized include: broadcasting board meetings on PAC 8; sending email newsletters to subscribers; using smart phone apps to share information with community members; and using local media to communicate open issues and final decisions. The information presented should be in a format that is understandable to the typical citizen, and be timely and relevant to the issues.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.
“The League really appreciates the time and dedication school board members give to their role and we think improved communication would help them be even more successful,” O’Leary said.