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Local editorials

It's the message, not the messenger The school district must make sure the community understands its goals

We aren't ready to say the Medford School District erred when it approved a &

36;52,500 contract with a public relations firm to improve communications. But the district must ensure that its message is the right one or the cost ultimately will be much higher.

The school district has come in for heat from letter writers and talk shows after the contract with the PR firm was announced. Much of it is overwrought: The money represents about six one-hundredths of — percent of the district's &

36;85 million budget. Sadly, &

36;52,500 wouldn't even cover the cost of a newer teacher's salary and benefits.

To be sure, the district failed the basic no surprises test with its constituents. By the time residents knew the district would be spending the &

36;52,500, it was already a done deal. Unfortunately, that means one of the first PR jobs the district has to take on after hiring a PR firm is to explain why it hired a PR firm.

District officials make a good case when they say that they need to develop a consistent message, both for their employees and for the public. They note the public relations firm has not been hired to create an advertising or marketing scheme, but rather as a consultant and facilitator to assist the district in developing a clear message. If that results in a community that really understands the goals and direction of its schools, it would be worth the price.

But, again, the critical part here is the message. In coming months, we will hear about the district's desperate need to take on millions of dollars in deferred maintenance, the kind of work that must be done to save existing facilities. We will hear about contract issues with teachers. We will hear more about the Small Schools Initiative that could radically change the two high schools.

But if what residents hear is that we need more money to pay for buildings, more money to pay for teachers and more money to pay for change, the message will fall with a thud.

— It is no easy task ' especially in an atmosphere poisoned by anti-tax fanatics ' but the message school leaders must develop is one that stresses value. If the district can get across the message that we must invest in our buildings or risk losing them, people may listen. District officials and teachers must show that they understand the public is not willing to pay more unless it sees more in return. They must clearly show the benefits of remaking our high schools.

Educators are notorious for speaking their own language ' educationese. They must learn to speak directly, to tell taxpayers, students and parents how the benefits outweigh the costs. If they do that, they stand a better chance of success.

And if a PR firm helps them to be successful, the &

36;52,500 will be money well spent.

Sports plan worsens On Oct. 5 we opposed a plan to realign Oregon's high school sports leagues. Since then, the possibilities surrounding that realignment have only gotten worse. We hope the Oregon Schools Activities Association recognizes that and opts to rethink its approach.

In an effort to improve competitive balance, the OSAA proposes to gut many existing leagues and expand from four to six the number of classifications. The OSAA board will vote on that option Monday.

The proposal includes putting two Eugene schools into a league with the two Medford high schools, Grants Pass and Roseburg. But the Eugene schools are desperately trying to get out of that deal, which could leave the Southern Oregon Conference with only four teams.

This proposal has drawn howls from around the state. If the OSAA refuses to hear those howls and proceeds with this plan, it will be doing a grave disservice to thousands of student athletes and dozens of communities.