Monday, November 27, 2000

Forums help sell school levies




By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Many school officials dread election years when they have to go begging taxpayers for operating funds or money to build schools.

        But some officials have hit upon an idea in hopes of limiting failed levies and bond issues: Involve the community from the outset to learn what new programs and buildings they want and will pay for.

        Mason, Sycamore, Lebanon, Carlisle and Milford are just a few of the districts that have solicited community input through forums.

        “I think, in general, people want to be a part of the educational process,” Lebanon Superintendent Bill Sears said.

        Lebanon schools have staged two community forums in the past few months, each drawing more than 200 people. The purpose is to gauge community sentiment on building plans.

        Officials there have said they think the forums will help them create a master facilities plan for the decade to come. The plan will be based on community surveys and random telephone polling within the district.

        “The educational process is changing to meet more of the needs of the customer,” Mr. Sears said.

        Those customers are taxpayers and parents.

        The forums aren't free, though.

        Lebanon is paying a consulting firm $75,000 to run them. That includes a comprehensive building analysis by an architectural firm and demographic studies, Mr. Sears said.

        But the cost is worth it because the feedback has been excellent, he said.

        Not all districts have been so lucky.

        Milford schools held five community forums in September and October after two bond issue failures. The district also had community forums before its first bond issue proposal in March.

        A total of about 100 people showed up for the five recent forums, Superintendent John Frye said.

       



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