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SCC district discusses ways to communicate

The St. Croix Central School Board is continuing to look at options to effectively communicate with the community about what is happening in the district, especially those who may not have a vested interest in the schools.

The review and discussion of community engagement materials raised a major discussion among those board members present at the board learning meeting on Monday, April 4.

Board member Scott DeGross said two-thirds of people in the district don't have a child in school.

Board member Kirk Lyksett said the district needs better communication with those residents who don't have a vested interest in the district, other than that they're paying taxes. He said the district must inform them about, "What are they getting? What is the return on the investment? I think that's what we've got to get out there. What are you as a member of the school district, who doesn't have a kid in our district, what are you getting out of the tax money you're paying?"

District Administrator David Bradley asked the board, "Why do we think it's important to have community engagement?"

"Anytime we go to the public with information, they think we're trying to pass a referendum," Lyksett said. "If our intent is to not just pass referendums that way, but to educate and teach the community itself, then you have to pass different information on during those times that we're not trying to pass a referendum. This is the time to pass off information that says this is what we're talking about right now. We have a topic and that topic is, 'Do we have the space?' Not do we need to build? This is all the conversation that is going around. Do we have the space? These are all the different things that we are looking at."

Years down the road, when it does look like a referendum will be needed, Lyksett said, when the district sends out information it won't come as a surprise because the community will have been informed about the options the district has looked at to deal with the issue.

Lyksett said it's important to keep residents who don't have a daily connection to the schools educated about what is happening in the district. He used the example of informing residents about student achievement, like MAP testing. He said the board could answer questions like, "What is MAP testing? What does it do? Why is it the best way to be doing it?"

By informing the community about things happening in the district on a regular basis, "Then it's not just, 'Oh, the only time we hear from the district is when they want to take more money," Lyksett said.

DeGross said the trust residents have in the board may play a part in some individuals not staying actively involved in the district.

"One of the issues associated with us is (residents) trusting the board and administrators. It's an excuse to not be engaged. The most engaged this district has ever been was 10 years ago. It wasn't positive, but it was engaged," DeGross said. "Trust is a great thing but you have to make people aware that their input still matters. There's still stuff going on that is going to affect their ability to hire somebody, their property values, their property taxes, whether they have kids in the district or not."

Board member David Olsen said the community should be informed even if they don't want to be informed.

"We report to them, because we are using their money to fund and run the district schools. We should try to get them informed because they should be informed," he said. "We can't make them want to be informed and I think that is where the downfall really lies. We're fighting an uphill battle. But then when they don't get the information the backlash comes right back to us. 'Why didn't I know?'"

Board member John Hueg said it is important to keep the community informed, which will hopefully lead to discussions among neighbors and friends.

While the board agrees that the district needs to better communicate with the community, it is still working to decide what information it wants to send to residents and in what manner they want to present that information to residents.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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