Communicating During Difficult Times

By Nora Carr

With a sagging economy spawning budget cuts across the U.S., school leaders face tough choices. Cut teachers or professional development? Reduce spending on fine arts or drop-out prevention?

Meanwhile, rhetoric about “trimming the fat” and “bloated” central office “bureaucracies” increases exponentially on talk radio circuits. Frightened parents storm school board and city hall meetings, as well as the state legislature, demanding funding for their child’s school, favorite teacher, or program. Looming layoffs in California, Florida, and New York City only spur more anxiety.

To maintain public confidence, many top officials rush to reassure parents that budget slashing won’t harm classroom instruction or district operations. Given the scope of many districts’ budget woes, such reassurance doesn’t mesh with reality. As a communications strategy, it may simply add more fuel to the fire.

If cuts don’t hurt, then what was cut wasn’t essential and district officials have wasted taxpayer dollars. Parents and teachers don’t want -- or deserve -- spin. They want the truth. When times are hard, open, honest, and forthright communication is the only strategy that works.

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