It may not seem like it, but using your district budget as a communications tool reinforces both the value you provide as well as where you need financial reinforcements to have great impact. A clear and strong communications strategy around your budget helps parents, educators, staff and the community see the advancement of a shared vision, and work together to achieve your collective goals and strengthen the culture and transparency of your learning community.
Your strategy should begin with articulating your shared vision and demonstrating the alignment of resources, budget priorities and expected outcomes. The investments you make are a clear signal to the community of what you value and are key indicators of your commitment to the vision and achieving your goals. An integrated plan to communicate can also help to strengthen awareness and understanding for taxpayers who do not have students in the system, but will make decisions on whether to invest and vote yes in a future bond referendum and/or levy request.
When creating a basic communications plan for your budget, ask yourself, are you:
Communicating an overview of the budget process?
Ensuring forums and opportunities for stakeholder and public engagement to participate and understand how the budget was developed?
Providing an explanation of the decisions that resulted from the budget process?
Creating opportunities for public feedback?
Identifying credible messengers (both people and communications vehicles) that are trusted with each audience?
Ready for the next step? When expanding your communications strategy, consider the following:
Map out key opportunities and forums throughout the year to provide an update on key investments
Clearly and consistently communicate the successes of schools or milestones in initiatives through a storytelling campaign
Identify which budget priorities to highlight and develop strong storytelling around the initiative – strive to highlight a story once a month through social media/web, outreach events, newsletters, local media, speaking engagements
Create a campaign tagline with accompanying visual identity and #hashtag to help promote and strengthen connections with their investments
Invite and encourage board members to visit schools / initiative activities so they may highlight at the board table during Board comments
Consider building upon your budget webpage to include updates and link stories
Establish regular two-way communications with families and the community
Develop a publication for distribution to district residents (taxpayer focus) – consider partnership with utility or town water distribution to broaden reach
Implement a “speaker’s bureau” of in-district experts for use by community and business organizations
Develop a realtor and chamber outreach campaign to provide resources to help new residents/businesses learn about the school system
When it comes to budgets, start the process early. Be transparent. Get the community engaged by meeting them where they are. Find your story. And make sure to always connect the faces of students and the impact on their lives with the numbers.