Public Information on School Construction

By Nora Carr

When school boards win voter support for capital needs, it’s tempting to breathe a collective sigh of relief and move on to other pressing issues. It’s important to remember, however, that the real public information campaign is just beginning.

Bond supporters, employees, elected officials, real estate agents, business leaders, and other key publics will want assurances throughout the building program that taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely, and that district leaders are keeping the promises they made during the information campaign.

Since perception often varies widely from reality, keeping everyone informed about what was promised, what was voted on, and how the money is being spent is not simple. Memory is famously unreliable, which means that even ardent and active supporters may have very different ideas about priorities, budgets, design specifications, proposed school locations, and other details.

A universal truth most districts face is that everyone is convinced someone else’s school is getting more than they are, and that someone else’s needs are less urgent than theirs. Not surprisingly, given this context, routine changes that seem minor or simply normal business to construction management professionals may seem like major gaffes and broken promises to others. This is true even when trust is high among parents, the public, and school officials, and there is a great deal of congruence between and among various groups about priorities, goals, and expectations.

If trust is lacking, the push-pull tensions between a group’s original vision and the unexpected situations that occur when digging mammoth holes in the ground and managing multi-million dollar renovation projects can quickly escalate out of control.

When trust is broken, or perceived to be broken with previous bond projects, school officials will have to work even harder to regain lost ground -- even if that ground was lost due to the actions of school boards and superintendents who are no longer in office. 

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