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Budget Communications: A Call To Action

Budgets, by definition, involve numbers. Budget communications, on the surface, require words. But are words enough, especially for school districts facing budget cuts? What’s the familiar adage we’ve all heard since childhood? Actions speak much louder than words.

Consider this point an extension of the idea, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” When as many stakeholders as possible participate in the process of budget communications, the end product is greater buy-in and understanding.

DeeAnn Konrad, Community Relations Supervisor for the Sioux Falls School District in South Dakota, describes the process in her district. “We have 19 committees that focus on key topics. For example, there’s a committee for elementary school curriculum and another for high school curriculum. They’re made of parents and community members and sometimes even representatives from the bus companies we contract with or the architects we consult.”

She continues, “We also have a Finance Action Network made up of local chief financial officers in banking, technology and hospitality. Our books are wide open for their review, and this brings credibility when we’re making financial decisions. We’ve also worked with the Chamber of Commerce and local service organizations such as the downtown Rotary Club. They, in turn, help us communicate with the public.” 

In Sioux Falls, it’s not just the school district communicating about budget issues. There are multiple stakeholders working together to understand how and why the district is making decisions that have the potential to affect staff, students and families.

“It’s important to remember that communities own their public schools,” observes Janet Swiecichowski, Vice President of CEL Marketing | PR | Design. “I mean that literally. School boards are elected as representatives of the community, but making decisions in a vacuum is never a good idea. A small number of elected officials or administrators huddled up in a room doesn’t win trust. Communicating and involving other people in the process is vitally important to earn support and understanding for the long-term.”

“As a public school district,” Konrad concludes, “we have a fiscal responsibility for public dollars. We need to make the funding we receive go as far as it possibly can. And we do. By involving as many stakeholders as possible in communicating our budget needs and necessities, we’re developing trust over time.”  

Need more ideas for effective school communications? Click over to the School Superintendent Association’s blog and read, “Straight Talk In Financially Uncertain Times: How District Leaders Can Communicate About The Messy Financial Landscape Coming Their Way,” by Laura Anderson and Marguerite Roza from the Edunomics Lab. 

See also, “Exerting Leadership Through The Budget-Building Process,” by James J. Bird, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 


Published on: February 12, 2021