This paper will analyze the case study “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which was written by Marion Czaja, Carl Harris, and Dianne Reed of Sam Houston University. It will take a perspective from the angle of one of the sides in the situation, define the problem presented in the case study, indicate what information is missing that would be helpful in making a decision, it will propose and analyze several possible solutions including possible consequences, select a preferred solution, propose a plan for implementation, and conclude with ideas for evaluating the decision.
For this case study, I will take the perspective of a community leader representing the primarily Hispanic population living in the west areas of Cloverdale. I am very supportive of education but I am concerned by the treatment of my community by the local school board.
The problem as I see it is that School Board and the Superintendent are not consulting with or taking into account the needs and desires of the people of my community that I represent. The city of Cloverdale has seen dramatic shifts in demographics over the last decade. The percentage of students who are Hispanic and/or economically disadvantaged has risen sharply. Hispanic students now account for nearly 50% of all students. Poor students now account for nearly 70% of the student population.
There is a need to build new schools to accommodate the growth in the district population. Unfortunately, the leadership of the school has made a decision to pursue a bond to generate funding for two new magnate schools. Neither will be built in the west neighborhoods that I represent. Instead, they will be built in the affluent white neighborhoods on in the east of the district. It will require students from my area to be bussed 30 minutes to attend the new facilities. Further, a lottery system will be implemented meaning that many of the children in my area will be denied the ability to attend the new schools.
None of the members of the School Board have made any attempts to consult with citizens of the school district about what they might want. Further, the Superintendent had not made many efforts to get to know me or the other leaders in my community. When a School Board meeting was announced with the topic of a bond election, rumors spread that the school leadership did not care about the concerns of the people in my community.
The School Board went ahead with their controversial plan and by a 4-3 vote have decide to place the bond issue on the ballot. It was apparent from the meeting that the Superintendent was ambivalent about the bond issue as well. From the tone of the feedback offered by community members at the meeting, there will be significant opposition to the bond issue with much of it generated from my community.
There are pieces of information missing from this case study which would prove helpful as the leaders in my community decide how to respond to the school leadership and the bond issue which will now be on the ballot. To begin with, is ignoring the members of the poorer neighborhoods a new trend? Or, has this happened repeatedly in the past? If there is a history of this sort of behavior, it will be harder to come up with a plan that will reconcile the school leadership and members of my community in a plan that both can accept.
Also, what is the ethnic composition of the School Board? We know that five of the seven members of the School Board are long-term residents of the town. We also know that two of them are female. However, of what racial background are the Board members? If one or more School Board members are representatives of the minority groups in the district, this also might help to smooth over hurt feelings that the views of residents of some neighborhoods are not being heard.
Further, how much time do we have to get the bond issue language changed to reflect the desires of member of my community? If not, is there time to convince the school leadership to temporarily remove the bond issue from the ballot so that it can be resubmitted in the future when feedback from all school district residents has been heard and considered? Election laws are very strict on timing in regards to filing for an election and for when changes can be made to previously submitted ballot measures. Is there time to have a bond issue that the people in my community can accept or do we have no choice but to vote this bond down?
Possible Solutions (and Consequences)
There are several different ways as a leader in my community that I can encourage others to find a solution to the problems created by the bond measure. Each would require a different approach. Each possible solution also has potential consequences for both my community and the school district.
One solution would be for me to advise the members of my community to accept the decision of the School Board and to support the bond issue. Although the plan developed by the School Board is not the best one for my community, all students in the district would benefit by the addition of new facilities. It would cut down on overcrowding in the district and the newer buildings may help to attract new teachers. Although this solution would not be the best one, it could have a positive long-term impact on the quality of the education that students receive.
There are several drawbacks to this solution. A big one would be that many members of my community would ignore my advice and work to defeat the bond issue anyway. In the process, I could damage my credibility as a leader as would others who would urge this path of least resistance. Further, having large numbers of people in my neighborhood working at cross purposes with each other would dilute the voice of my community and make it harder to stand as one to try and influence future issues in the school district.
Finally, this approach would allow the School Board to get away with ignoring the citizens in my community. If they marginalize the concerns of poor Hispanics (and African-Americans who live in the communities to the north) and are then successful in getting the bond issue passed, the School Board is unlikely to take the concerns of my community seriously in the future. And why should they? If they can do as they please without gathering input and consensus from the community that they serve, it is probable that they will continue to ignore citizens in the neighborhood I represent and others as well in the school district.
A second possible solution would be to seek dialogue with the school leadership. In the months to come, I could work with the district and other leaders in the community to present opportunities for the school leadership to reconsider the bond issue. If this could be done in a timely manner, there still may be time to rewrite the bond issue or to get it delayed until a future election so that a new bond issue can be placed on the ballot that the community could support.
This possible solution looks like it may be successful based on the actions of the school leadership. The School Board decided this issue on a split 4-3 vote. If only one School Board member could be persuaded to change his or her vote, a compromise could be reached between those who were not listened to previously and the School Board. Further, it was clearly observed that the Superintendent was uncomfortable during the School Board meeting which resulted in the bond issue being agreed to in the first place. It is well known that the School Board and the Superintendent have had disagreements in the past as the School Board has overridden several of his recommendations. Could this be another area of disagreement that could be exploited to allow for the people I represent to provide their feedback to the school leadership?
The potential benefits of this approach are enormous. If the school leadership will allow for feedback from the community on this issue, and then alter their plan accordingly, the bad feelings caused by this entire incident can be cleared. If a bond issue can be offered that has full community support as a result of these meeting, then myself and other leaders of my community are going to be seen in a positive light. We will be seen as people that it is worth it to work with and we will have the opportunity to be listed to again in the future by the school leadership.
This possible solution still has the potential to backfire. If the school leadership refuses to engage in real dialogue on this issue (or if they just pay lip service to this idea and do as they please anyway), then the anger in my community will likely increase. The result would almost certainly mean that people in my community would work to defeat the bond measure. Their cynicism about the entire process could also discourage some from wanting to ever try to work for change in the district again. The may feel that their feedback is entirely unwelcome and unappreciated by those in charge of the schools.
A third option that could yield positive results for my community would be to recommend that we all openly oppose the School Board and work together to defeat the bond measure at the ballot box. If our voices are not important to the school leadership, then we have no obligation to support the school. We could send a clear message by helping to vote down the bond measure. As a lot of older long-term district residents seem to be opposed to the measure, it might be easy to send the leaders of the school a clear message about the dangers of ignoring us.
If successful, this approach could then allow us to approach the Superintendent and School Board after the bond measure is defeated. We could then offer to have a candid series of discussions about the needs of our community and then work to find an acceptable bond measure to put on the ballot. If the school leaders prove unwilling to hear our message, then at that point we could work to remove current School Board members and elect members of our community to be on the School Board instead. This could ultimately assure that the needs of our community are adequately addressed in the school district.
However, this approach would generate a lot of negativity and ill will in the community. Many strong school supporters would not see this as a means for my community to be heard by the school leadership. Instead, they will probably see it as a vindictive strategy that will hurt kids used by people who did not get their own way. Finding a common ground with school supporters and the School Board will be difficult if this solution is tried.
Finally, there is the possibility of filing a complaint with State Education Agency claiming that the school leaders have mismanaged funds. The declining achievement scores in the district could be cited as proof of this claim. This course of action could be coupled together with any of the three above proposed courses of action. For example, we could attempt to seek dialogue but also file a complaint at the same time. If there is real funds mismanagement in the district, this could be a positive step in helping to publicize it. However, a claim such as this would be difficult to prove and little would probably come of it. Further, it would not be taken well by the school leaders and would hinder dialogue. This additional tactic should probably only be used if the third option of fighting the bond measure is decided upon.
I will recommend that the members of my community try the second solution that I proposed above. I believe it is the most positive of the three. The first solution would not be bought into by a significant number of citizens in my neighborhood dividing our voice from the start. Further, it would probably result in our needs being ignored by the school leadership in the future. The third approach is too negative. It may be necessary to attempt to defeat the bond measure on the ballot with an orchestrated campaign but it really should be a last resort. Taking on a School Board by trying to defeat a ballot measure is very much like using a nuclear weapon in war. There is no going back once it is dropped.
My preferred solution engages the citizens of the school district with the school leaders directly. Feedback works both ways and each side really needs to sit down and talk this out. It may not work but I think it might. If not, there is nothing preventing us from attempting another tactic such as trying to defeat the bond measure.
Implementing the plan I am suggesting is very time dependent. We must be able to get changes made to the bond measure before the election law deadline passes. If we are not fast enough, we will be stuck with a ballot measure we can not support. As such, all the steps noted below may be done in as short of time as a few weeks or it may be done slower over half of a year.
To start, all of the interested leaders in the west and the north communities should get together and discuss this. What do we want from the school leadership? What changes would be necessary for us to support this bond measure? After this, we need to have an open forum for members of our communities to discuss what the citizens want. The School Board and Superintendent will be invited to this meeting.
After establishing what the members of the west and north communities desire, we will seek to form several task forces relating to the bond measure. It will be made clear that we expect members of the school leadership to participate in these task forces. If necessary, appropriate pressure tactics will be used to “encourage” participation by the school leadership.
At every School Board meeting, an agenda item will be placed dealing with the task forces. Members of my community will pack the School Board meetings every time ready to make comments encouraging changes to the bond measure. If it looks like needed changes are being stalled or not seriously being considered, it will be made clear to the school leadership that they are facing the real likelihood that the bond measure will fail.
Throughout the entire process, we will seek to garner positive PR from the local newspapers and TV/radio stations. We will emphasize that we are seeking to work with the school leadership and that we are strong supporters of public education. All of the meetings relating to the bond measure will be covered by the press. It is important that this issue is not dealt with in private. It must be public so that the school leadership can feel pressured to make changes.
Ultimately, this entire endeavor will be judged by whether changes were made to the bond measure that will make it more acceptable to the citizens of my community. Until we all talk, we will not be sure what these changes may be. It could be that school leadership agrees to build one of the new magnet school in the west or north neighborhoods. Knowing this, here are some specific indicators I would be looking for to see if this solution is working:
1. Are the members of my community willing to meet together and discuss this further? If so, can we agree on a common vision for the bond measure?
2. Is the school leadership willing to meet with the community and hear what they have to say?
3. Are the members of the school leadership willing to serve on task forces?
4. Is it apparent at School Board meetings that progress is being made towards making changes?
5. Is the local media covering this issue? Are most citizens in the school district aware that there is a controversy?
6. Finally, are acceptable changes being made to the bond measure that will allow it to get the support of my community?
If the bond measure goes to the ballot unchanged, then this solution has failed.