Lead Substantively, Support Fiscally

Update, 3.19.14. Someone’s asked if the Common Core discussion at Monday’s school board meeting doesn’t undercut my argument about the need to lead every presentation with a substantive (academics, athletics, art) discussion.  

On the contrary, I had it in mind, and it bolsters my contention.  A discussion of curriculum at a board meeting, but not in presentations to the community elsewhere, is a half-heard discussion. Trying to separate fiscal and curriculum discussions (and present them singly to the audience one hopes will be most receptive) is a mistake. One can only pick one’s audience accurately for so long; a wrong choice only invites criticism that one has held back information, and cherry-picked one’s audiences.

Better to present both, as a set, everywhere one can, each and every time one can.      

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A salesman knocks on one’s door, and when greeted, begins with this presentation:

Good morning, residents of this fine domicile.  I’ve an offer that’s on discount today, down from the regular price of $100 to a new, low price of $75.  We’re offering our same, tried-and-true product – no changes or substitutions, I promise – at a significantly lower rate.  

So, how many would you like to buy?

Would you take his deal?

Perhaps, but likely not before asking one question: “What are you selling?”

The price means nothing if one doesn’t know the goods being offered, and their quality.  

Not long ago at Common Council, and more recently to a community group, the Whitewater Schools’ district administrator and business manager presented on the fiscal condition of the district.  

No doubt, it’s good that there are presentations like this – better to be forthright than to withhold information.  

I’d offer a suggestion, though, and one that’s useful when one considers that there are statewide concerns about public school districts’ finances but also their curricula (the worry of some over Common Core, for example.)

In every presentation about the district, no matter how long or brief, the first part of the presentation should address substantive accomplishments (academic, athletic, artistic) before a discussion of expenditures.

I write this as a libertarian, who would prefer smaller government not merely as less expensive, but as less burdensome or regulatory.  If we are to spend – and I know we sometimes must – then the first step should be a justification for that spending (that is, a list of accomplishments or goals yet to be met).

This uniform, two-step approach assures that neither of the major objections (on action or cost) to a project will ever go unaddressed.  It’s not a libertarian’s purpose to assist government, but there are times when a simple method helps both government and its skeptics.  

Many districts in this state focused on fiscal changes, but were quite plainly caught flat-footed when objections to a given curriculum emerged over the last year.  Whitewater didn’t see much fuss, and I’m not wading into that topic today.   

Those other districts, however, were short-sighted to believe that fiscal discipline (at least as they touted it) would insulate them from other political challenges, some of which have been curriculum-centered.

It’s insufficient (although necessary) to talk about mere cost – all expenditures require an explanation, so that one might measure their influence more broadly.  

No presentations this district’s officials give will be as useful for them or for Whitewater as presentations that lead on substance and thereafter immediately follow on cost.

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