Should ICCSD District Officials Use PPEL to Pay for This?

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 . 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 or any of the other many articles you can find by googling needs based selling or 21st century selling techniques.

This entry was posted in Board, Bond, Budget, Busing, ICCSD, Iowa City Schools, PPEL and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Should ICCSD District Officials Use PPEL to Pay for This?

  1. Karen W says:

    It looks like they are a bit late in accepting the deal.

    Is this supposed to replace the MindMixer/engageiowacityschools site or is it in addition to that?


    • Mary says:

      I do not know the answer to your question about whether ThoughtExchange replaces MindMixer. The district administration’s memo found starting on page 10 of doesn’t address this, and its information includes no analysis to show how the two services compare or what additional services ThoughtExchange would provide. My impression from the ThoughtExchange website is that the public would not have access to all comments and that people could comment anonymously, which might raise some open meetings issues if board members comment. Plus, the public would not know to what extent administrators are commenting.


    • A search of the district website for the word “ThoughtExchange” using the district website’s own required search tool, pulls up 0 results (including it not picking up the fact that search word is in the current board packet). Oh, well, I guess we get what they pay for…how much is that website costing?


  2. I have not heard this discussed in any committee meeting, work session, or ANY other public meeting in open session…and I think we know I would have, or at least at minimum would have been alerted by someone/s else who did. Watcha want to bet a PPR/FOIA on Murley and Lynch’s emails on this would be extremely enlightening? I sure wish someone would do that 😦


  3. Who trusts district leadership here? Maybe the North Corridor Parents do since they seem so highly favored by the superintendent and board president? I wonder if it might be said, look out folks – if you don’t give Murley’s bond measures approval, your municipality may not be treated to the inside track that ones who did give Murley a blank check (i.e., approved the last RPS) may seem to get formally or informally. This will be great for Murley’s job prospects elsewhere (he assured me on several occasions that he’s headhunted bout constantly) if he can’t sell himself any better than he did to Omaha (I hear they weren’t terribly impressed with his barely changing ppt that he used over and over and over…hmmmm, go figure, they must have expected some substance instead of smoke and mirrors or a special magical handshake not possible to be given to a female majority board). Wow, imagine what he’ll be able to do with a $103,470 arguably perceivable personal promotion firm/services behind his deification? March is upon us shortly, Caesar paid a high price for self-deification against the wishes of his people and his peers during his own lifetime. Murley should probably keep an eye on his best friends in the “senate”.
    The public’s letter grade on trust in the board, Mr. Murley, Dr. Ramey, Mr./Dr.? Hansel, and Dr. Dude are a direct reflection of the public’s observation of their honestly, transparency of rule, forthrightness, good character (or otherwise), integrity, and the match-up (or lack thereof) between their words and their actions. Lack of public trust in any incarnation of board, board member, superintendent or his individual generals is, and will always be, based on THEIR OWN WORDS AND ACTIONS and especially on whether they keep promises they imply or make.
    All of these things are entirely independent of anything a $103,470 public relations firm/software/vendor can do for them if they don’t themselves model and engender trustworthiness for the public in the first place. Paying a vendor a dollar to try to make things appear anything other than what they are is an offensive waste of public tax money.
    Seriously? They want to use infrastructure needs taxpayer funding on an outsourced advertising company to promote themselves, oh, right, their work (right). Outsourcing as a lack of taking personal responsibility and good character, or effecting actual change in that direction on their part, have reached an entirely new level of insanity in the ICCSD when the vanity of their administrative leadership seeks to blame anyone but their own poor performance. They don’t have any business blaming poor perceptions of their leadership on anyone but themselves. If they didn’t have anything they wanted hidden, they wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to keep people from talking about it in the first place, and they damn well wouldn’t be so interested in blaming those brave people, who pay so dearly for doing it, for the lack of public trust or for throwing money at spin from an advertising makeover.
    Now, Murley told me that he’d “met” Synesi (who was worth every dime) and other vendors the district has outsourced to at the many allegedly necessary meetings he jets off to, or drives his jeep to, all over the country. Hmmmmmmm. In his last contract, the board president was given sole authority to authorize those trips (without even disclosing them to the rest of the board) and activities that Murley gets to do highly paid consulting for. Could that be double dipping? Could the promotional advertising he’s requesting board approval for be perceived as further funding his own independent LLC’s profitability?


  4. Pingback: Part II of Should ICCSD Spend Money on ThoughtExhange? | Mary Murphy

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