ROCORI COMMUNITY FINANCE COMMITTEE
At a meeting this past week, I received some feedback on one of our district standing committees. The feedback indicated that people in our district are not really aware that a Community Finance Committee exists. In fact, the committee and its function is not very well-known throughout the district.
Although, from time to time, we share information from the committee and updates on the committee work are given regularly at School Board meetings, it was apparent that we should take some additional time to share a little more information about the group. Because the committee has membership discussion on its recent (and upcoming) agenda, I thought this would be an ideal time to share about the committee.
During the 2005-2006 school year, the School Board authorized the formation of a Community Finance Committee. The idea was to bring together a number of leaders from our communities to help them understand a little more fully how district finances work but also gather thoughts and feedback from those leaders.
The membership of the committee, as it was authorized, was intended to have representation from each of our communities. In addition, the goal was to have a wide variety of leadership roles involved—that there would be many different leaders on the committee. This would include representatives from retail, banking, real estate, construction, and many different types of enterprises.
At the start, a number of individuals were identified as potential leaders of the committee and specific invitations were extended to individuals in order to achieve the diverse representation desired. Over time, the membership on the committee has changed but the goal is still to have a diverse mix from our communities.
PURPOSE AND FUNCTION
As the ROCORI School District discussed the development of a Community Finance Committee, various purposes, functions and goals were discussed. In part, the idea was to have a group of people who could offer suggestions about how the district conducted its business and financial affairs. As this was discussed, it became apparent that school finances are considerably different than many other business operations and, in order for committee members to offer constructive feedback, some steps of education about school finance also had to occur.
At the time of the organization of the committee, the district was in the midst of several different financial efforts—operating referendum consideration as well as efforts to work on a construction project. Several proposals to the community had been defeated and the thought was that feedback from the community could come through members of the finance committee. The committee was not designed to specifically advocate for referendum efforts, but it was intended to be a source of feedback, information and suggestions about how the district might communicate more effectively.
Beyond these issues, the committee was desired as a “sounding board.” Plans, initiatives, and options that would require significant investments or commitments from the district might be brought to the group in order to get reaction, information and insight from the members. The committee members, it was hoped, would be able to offer community reaction to the approaches or concepts.
Ultimately, as all the ideas and options were considered, the goal was to have the Finance Committee learn about the district but also be a group of community leaders who could react to things happening in the district.
Through the exchange of ideas and information, the general consensus was that the committee, itself, should be given a great deal of latitude to determine its specific function, but that several general outcomes were desired from the committee’s work. Education, feedback, and communication were determined to be the core focus points for the committee.
It is hoped that the work of the committee provides for education in two directions. First, that the school district and administrators might better understand how information is heard and received in the ROCORI community. Second, the goal was to have informed community members who could react to issues in the community.
School information typically is “packaged” in the manner that it is transmitted between districts and across the state. Those processes may not allow the general public to understand school information because it is “different” from private business operations.
It was desired that the committee help school leaders to be better able to share and communicate information effectively. In addition, if there are different ways for the school district to look at its own information, the different perspective would be very helpful.
The second element of education desired was, and is, to have a broader base of community members who have looked at school information, understand elements about the school, and are “informed” members of the school community. The district is not seeking “disciples,” but rather informed residents who can offer good feedback, who can be a sounding board for ideas, and who can ask good questions about issues in the district.
As information is shared, reviewed, or requested, the district administration is seeking feedback on issues that are important from the community perspective. As the district works through initiatives, programs, and activities, getting reaction and perspective from members of the community is important. Ideas the district is considering or proposing are often brought to the committee to gather reaction or feedback.
If there are significant issues “out in the community” regarding the school district and the direction it is taking, school leaders want to hear that feedback. If there are questions circulating in the school community regarding other issues at school, school leaders also need to hear that information. The hope has always been that, as community leaders hear questions or concerns about issues within the ROCORI School District, they could be presented and discussed at committee meetings. The Finance Committee has been a means for the district to hear about these issues.
In addition, as the district looks at financial questions and direction, thoughts and reaction from within the community have been very valuable. Over the years the committee has been in place, there are a number of examples from which the Finance Committee has offered good insight. Areas from which the board and administration have received feedback include ideas related to financial reductions, negotiation of contracts, issues of maintenance and stewardship of property, use of capital funds or resources, ideas related to the construction project, referendum plans and approaches, significant initiatives within the district and many other issues of concern. The committee has been very appropriate and valuable.
Perhaps an issue tied between the two previous items, but yet a separate outcome would be a desire to have the committee help to “package” or frame issues to communicate within and outside of the district. The committee, over time, has been a valuable asset in this fashion as well.
The committee has offered excellent insight into methods of sharing information—how could the district best connect with residents and what communications tools might make a difference to people?
The committee has helped with looking at the kind or kinds of information that would be helpful to residents. What types of wording make sense to an average resident of the district? How can some of the complex issues of school funding or school finance be simplified so that residents can follow it? What information makes sense to share with residents who are pressed for time and need information that is clear and direct?
All of these issues have been part of the feedback from the Finance Committee and have helped the district communicate issues better. The issues can continually be examined and refined, but the committee has been very helpful in structuring elements of district communications.
The Community Finance Committee has been part of the ROCORI organizational structure for seven years! After considerable deliberation about its purpose and function, the committee has served as an excellent tool to bring community and school leaders together.
I will return to the topic in another column to share more detail about the Community Finance Committee. We can look at some of the work it has done, membership of the committee, meeting opportunities and more about its structure. Overall, the committee offers the district a connection to community resources and insight that would not otherwise exist!