Lessons from the referendum’s failure

(This post originally appeared on the Even Better Eastern Carver County Schools Facebook page on November 6, 2019)

What lessons do we take from the failure of questions 1 & 2 of the referendum last night?

As tempting as it is to treat the misinformation and appeals to racial and religious identity as the sole cause of the defeat, the district needs to face the facts that there are reforms it needs to make.

First, the district’s practice of one-way public communication needs to stop. We need authentic two-way public conversation. Residents should be able to ask questions, get answers, and have dialogue with the school board and senior leaders. If the district is committed to the 45-minute cap at board meetings, then it needs to go to the community and have true public forums. And when I say go to the community, I mean go to the community and hold these events in Carver, in Victoria, in Chanhassen – not just at the DEC. The school board already holds many of its worksessions at schools, yet there is no avenue for public input at these meetings. What’s the point of going there if you’re not going to engage that school’s community?

Second, the school board needs to decide if they really believe in what they’re doing. For months, folks came to the school board meetings and questioned their facts and their character. Where were the school board members in response? Nowhere to be found. Not one of them used their social media platforms to fight misinformation. Not one of them wrote a letter to the editor in the newspapers. One week before the election, Lisa Anderson essentially threw up her hands and said the vote was “out of our hands” instead of you know, trying to set the record straight and advocate for what she had voted to put on the ballot. Well, a bunch of folks worked their butts off for that week (and months before) trying to pass her referendum, which she apparently wasn’t willing to publicly fight for. Why was everyone else carrying their water? If the seven members of the board aren’t up to doing this work, they should resign now and let somebody who is take their job.

Third, the district needs to tighten up how they communicate on these issues. Sloppiness in how enrollment was reported created confusion which was exploited by the “Vote No” groups. If a backlash against equity work was part of the cause of the vote results, part of that can be laid on the district’s year-long history of tiptoeing around this issue and failing to make a short, coherent, consistent, and strong message about why this work is necessary.

Like all of the other problems this district has face over the last couple of years, these go back to the same root problems: a lack of leadership, a lack of proactivity, and failure to communicate effectively.

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