To Govern is to Choose

Instrumental Music or Art Class?  Physical Education or Vocational Programs?  New Textbooks or Smaller Class Size?

The School Districts that K12 Insight works with face countless decisions over the course of a year, ranging from the trivial to the profound.  When called upon to allocate precious taxpayer funds and make critical budget decisions, a process of robust dialogue with all elements of the community fosters greater understanding of district decisions and lessens the risk of misunderstanding and resentment.

On many occasions, we have developed Budget Priorities surveys for our clients. Each survey is as unique as the communities it serves.  One technique that can provide rich feedback for a Superintendent and School Board is called a Ranking Question. The Ranking Question presents the respondent with a list of approximately 10 items and requires them to identify the top 3 priorities in order.   This eliminates the possibility of rating all options as equally good – which provides no useful information to District Leadership.  One powerful aspect of this approach is that it places the respondent in the role of the Superintendent – setting priorities among worthy options.  Our technology even allows the survey creator to randomize the list so that each option receives its fair share of ‘Top Billing’ in the list.

Even though the Ranking Question is a very helpful tool in some surveys, it is important to understand your audience before using it. I had a recent conversation with a client in a Rust Belt town, and after a great deal of consideration, she decided to remove the Ranking Question.  Due to the backdrop of falling resources and declining student population, the  nerves of teachers and parents were too raw and sensitive about the threat of cuts in service. Nevertheless, the dialogue will continue within the community and perhaps next year- with greater transparency and mutual understanding-our client will find the resolve to ask the community to choose.

Most clients that I work with find that there is a great amount of value created by the Ranking Question.  It compels each respondent to take a stand and let the district know what is most vital in their view.  When money and resources are in short supply, we all should join the candid discussion about what will we choose.

Author: Todd Keffer

Relationship Manager

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