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School Finance Communication: The ‘Gas Station Principle’

This is the second article of a three-part series on communication about school finance. If you haven’t already, read the first article.

Not long ago, I was filling up my tank at a local gas station the night after a long and contentious board meeting at which the budget was the central agenda item. I saw a board member from my school district. As the board member was filling up his tank, another community member came up to him, introduced herself and, in a very friendly way, said, “Can you tell me about the school district’s budget?”

The board member, who appeared to be dressed for a meeting, took a deep breath and went into what amounted to a three-minute soliloquy about budget challenges and the different and very complex options available to the board. The community member, who seemed to have some basic knowledge of school finance, became clearly lost when the board member uttered the words “negative tertiary.”

To be sure, the conversation ended poorly, with the community member confused and feeling that the details were being hidden from her. The board member seemed frustrated that he could not convey what he felt were critical points about the district’s budget.

The moral of this story is that there is a need to communicate very clear and compelling points about especially complex issues like school finance. I call this the “gas station principle.”

Be ready to communicate

The gas station principle calls for having three to five ready-to-communicate ideas or messages on various important issues. Put another way, if you had an opportunity to meet individually with every member of your community, what are the three or four points you would want them to know and understand about the budget?

This is no small task. Keeping everyone, including board members and administration, on the same page is critical to ensuring that community members understand the challenges and are engaged in finding solutions.

Certainly, standing by the pump at the gas station is not the best time to communicate about something as important or complicated as school finance, but being prepared to have that conversation can help.

In our next post, we look at how we can develop these messages by asking ourselves several key questions.

Next: Asking the Right Questions

Joe Donovan

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