Many people appreciate community engagement. However, have district officials gone too far in recommending that the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) pay $103,470 out of the Physical Plant Equipment Levy (PPEL) fund over a three year period for ThoughtExchange software and services from Fulcrum Management Solutions, Inc.?1 ICCSD’s officials’ description of ThoughtExchange includes the following:
….Alignment with community and an established community trust in District leadership will be critical when the time comes to ask for the community’s support for any facilities financing measure [aka bond] that is ultimately proposed….2
Yes, ThoughtExchange would probably get lots of comments from lots of people. ThoughtExchange even has an article on its website to show how it can help with “contentious” issues where the promoters of ThoughtExchange proclaim:
A community conversation can accomplish four things:
1. You begin to understand if there is widespread dissatisfaction with an issue or even if people understand that there is an issue;
2. You include more voices with different perceptions and insights, allowing all participants to learn (not just the organization’s leaders), which helps transform the dissatisfaction into empathy;
3. You can discover a narrative during the discussion that resonates with people and which will help you craft a compelling vision; and
4. You develop trust just by holding the conversation. More trust is gained when participants and observers alike can see the fairness of the process as well as the results. Most people will be thankful just to have been invited to participate. [Emphasis added.]
Research has also shown that people are more likely to support a final decision if they believe that all options were fairly considered.3
Has common sense been abandoned? The bottom line is ICCSD would still spend over a hundred thousand dollars on ThoughtExchange.
The opportunity cost of spending $103,470 on ThoughtExchange is that these PPEL funds could not be spent on, for example, exterior lighting for new athletic fields or students’ equipment (e.g. musical instruments, some bus costs, library furniture, chromebooks, etc.). To put this amount into perspective, BestBuy retails the Acer C720P-2661 Chromebook for $279–this would work out to purchasing about 370 Chromebooks for Iowa City students (probably more because ICCSD would likely get a discount). Alternatively, consider how many musical instruments $103,470 would buy for students. Further, when ICCSD uses its general fund for expenditures PPEL could otherwise pay for, there might not be enough money in the general fund to pay for other students’ needs such as some of the costs of busing or a teacher.
And ThoughtExchange should not be used as an excuse to cut back community comment at board meetings, which does not cost taxpayers $103,470. The ability to speak publicly at board meetings permits speakers to speak to not only the board but a general audience as well, including television viewers at home. Even when speakers are accused by some of being intimidating or annoying (and the use of pejorative adjectives can be a rhetorical strategy to defeat public voices and in some cases, a form of reverse bullying), individuals’ voices at school board meetings should not be censored under the guise of ThoughtExchange.
Frankly, ICCSD’s proposed use of ThoughtExchange reminds me of needs-based selling,4 which was oft used when I worked in the insurance industry. Developing a “narrative” translates into developing a sales pitch. ICCSD is now at the stage on the road to market the bond where it can uncover our concerns and needs and build trust by asking us value based, solution based, etc. questions. Yuck. Everyone should be asking themselves whether $103,470 is better spent directly on students’ and whether ThoughtExchange will improve academic outcomes. The bond, when floated, will be big enough. Say no to ThoughtExchange.
1See page 10 in particular and through page 13 at http://www.iowacityschools.org/files/_BFJqf_/84d74fee0fedaeb13745a49013852ec4/February_10_2015.pdf . Note that not all of the attached documents to the agreement between ICCSD and Fulcrum Management Services, Inc. are included in ICCSD’s board information packet.
4See http://peoplefirstps.com/four-selling-questions-you-arent-asking/ or any of the other many articles you can find by googling needs based selling or 21st century selling techniques.