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D-200 pushes back decision on community engagement

Seeking more cohesion and clarity, the Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education has pushed back implementing its contested community engagement plan.

Originally slated for a vote at the Oct. 9 Board meeting, Superintendent Brian Harris said the potential agreement to conduct a nearly $50,000 large-scale study to identify resident priorities needed more discussion.

"What we really need to find out from the community is, what is it they want and what is it they're willing to pay for?" said Board President Barbara Intihar. "And when we find that out, then, if they want more than what they're willing to pay for, then perhaps we can get some creative ideas from the same community how to raise the money."

Harris said that the proposal outlined by communications firm UNICOM•ARC at the Board's previous meeting could give the board focus for years to come. The proposal involved a series of educational resident workshops inviting those who lived in the district to weigh in on specific topics.

Harris also said that he had previously worked with the company and that the service it offered could be a model for future interaction with residents.

"It's really about trying to not only to get some details and shape and guide some directions on some certain topics, but also show the community, 'We are District 200, here's how we get input,'" he said.

Several Board members stressed the importance of reaching the estimated 70 to 75 percent of residents who do not have children in the school district. Board member Jim Mathieson said that he didn't "want to be surprised like the referendum of Jefferson [Early Childhood Center]."

Board member Rosemary Swanson said that while there are specific Board priorities, such as improvements at Jefferson or strengthening technology infrastructure, an engagement plan could gauge what projects the community is "willing to leverage against each other."

Whether an engagement plan from UNICOM will align with the goals of the Board is unclear. Board member Jim Mathieson said that he was sent the final results from a UNICOM study from another district and was unimpressed by how general they were.

Harris said that each UNICOM study can be tailored to be as specific as a district wants. To ensure that the Board is on common ground, they will discuss the topic for the entirety of the upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting Oct. 23 before voting in November. The community engagement committee will also contact previous UNICOM clients and request the names for other vendors those districts considered.

Board Vice President Jim Vroman said that, no matter the format, engagement is needed.

"We want to engage in a process where, hopefully, we're surprised or we become confident that maybe we did have a pulse on the community," he said. "And to do that, we need to engage with a large number of citizens."

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