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District Transparency

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Frontline Education

When student enrollment increases or declines, districts must make tough decisions regarding how and where to serve those students. Sometimes, this means converting a school to a special program focused school, such as dual language or gifted. Other times it may mean opening a new school or closing an existing one. Accurate data is important in guiding these decisions. What may seem like an easy change or move can be perceived negatively in the community if the district is not transparent and clear regarding the focus and reason for the decision. Using analytics to communicate can be extremely helpful. The saying regarding how a picture can be worth a thousand words is quite applicable in these situations, as charts and maps (analytics) are more easily understood than documents or presentations with words and numbers. Analytics showing a simple view of how a school is under or over utilized (counts and percentages) as well as a map view indicating current vs. future plans for changes can be used to build trust by ‘showing me’ what you are ‘telling me.’ Tying this with financial analytics then aids with understanding the cost of making (or not making) the change for boundaries, programs, and/or services.

Enrollment increases and decreases can also require districts to make tough financial decisions. Increasing enrollment may seem like a “good” problem because of per-student revenue increases. However, it also puts a strain on resources that may already be nearing maximum capacity. Declining enrollment is a challenge because districts often cannot reduce services in equal proportion to funding decreases. Campuses, cafeterias, programs, and services often have fixed costs that do not decline at the same rate as per-student funding. Transparency plays a crucial role in sharing information and communicating with communities, parents, and stakeholders. Here are some of the best reasons to engage in transparency efforts:

Trust: Transparent communication builds trust among parents, students, and the community. When school districts share accurate and timely information about their activities, decisions, and outcomes, stakeholders have a better understanding of the district's operations. Trust is essential for creating a positive learning environment and ensuring that parents and the community continue to support the district's initiatives. Financial transparency is especially important in building trust by showing that districts are good stewards of public resources.

Communication: This is key to building trust with stakeholders and the community. By providing regular updates through multiple channels, such as newsletters, websites, social media, and community meetings, districts can ensure that relevant information reaches a wider audience. This also helps districts create a single source of trusted information. Rather than relying on word-of-mouth or fragmented information from multiple sources, good communication offers the community timely and accurate information directly from the district.

Decision-Making: Transparency helps stakeholders make well-informed, data-driven decisions. Parents can better understand the educational opportunities available to their children, and available resources within the district. Transparent disclosure of academic performance, staffing challenges and enrollment changes helps parents make decisions that positively impact their children's education, and increases their understanding of decisions made by district leaders to improve the educational outcomes for all students.

Community Engagement: Transparent communication invites the community to participate in the district. When school districts share information about upcoming events, resource challenges, and opportunities for involvement, community members are more likely to engage and feel personally invested in the successful operations of the district. This engagement strengthens the sense of community and contributes to a positive educational experience for students.

For financial transparency, a great first step in building trust is for the district to publish operating results on their website. This facilitates effective communication and engagement around data-driven decision making.

Written by: Christa Spencer & Brenda Richmond, Frontline Education