WHEATON – After several weeks of consideration, the Community Unit School District 200 Board of Education voted 5-2 during a Nov. 13 meeting to move forward with its engagement initiative.
Consultant UNICOM•ARC will form a committee of community members and district staff to hold a series of resident workshops, each focusing on a specific topic. Participants will hear a data presentation and then split into small groups for brainstorming and feedback sessions.
Board President Barbara Intihar said that, after speaking with staff, she believes working with an outside vendor is the best course of action.
"If staff does not feel they could achieve the same result, the same level of quality on their own because of the demand – especially because of the demand at this time – I think we're doing ourselves a disservice and wasting money in terms of our own internal resources," she said.
Board member Brad Paulsen, who said he had worked with UNICOM previously in his job as an architect, said that hiring the firm would be a "phenomenal investment" in the community and the future of the board.
The nearly $50,000 contract was criticized by board members Jim Gambaiani and Jim Mathieson, who voted against hiring UNICOM. Both said during the Nov. 13 meeting and in previous discussions that they were skeptical about the process, though not the idea behind it.
Mathieson said that despite the board's discussions, he didn't feel confident he knew what the district would get from the firm. He also said that he would have liked to have seen proposals from more potential vendors.
Board member Rosemary Swanson said that she believed it was the responsibility of the board to approach the vote as trustees, rather than managers.
"A good financial trustee would want to know what the owners' wishes were in order to be good stewards of that trust," she said. "And we sit in trust of the most important assets of our community, which is our children and their education."
The board also voted to approve an official charge for the project to guide and focus the outreach. Several board members stressed that UNICOM survey as diverse a population as possible, with special attention to those without children in the district.
Intihar said that, no matter how board members voted on the survey provider and methods, she hoped all would publicly and privately support the community engagement process moving forward. Both Gambaiani and Mathieson voted in favor of the charge, citing the direction it gave to the process.
"For me, though I voted no on the [community engagement] item, I believe that this [charge] document is still a key document, whether we were going to do this with an outside service or not," Gambaiani said.
Superintendent Brian Harris said that staff had already begun creating a list of potential candidates for the engagement committee and would accept suggestions from the board and community. He anticipated having a draft of the list by the Dec. 11 board meeting, if not sooner.
Community engagement initiative, as specified by charge:
• Gather current, accurate and consistent information that reflects the perceptions, priorities and challenges of the community.
• Communicate to the community the district’s successes and challenges, while instilling a deeper understanding of the mission, objectives and needs of the district
• Ascertain long-term goals and priorities of the community with respect to student achievement, including education and social-emotional performance criteria, staff development and compensation, facilities and technology, which are also consistent with policies and practices that will ensure the long-term financial stability of the district.
• Ascertain the steps to be taken and the resources, programs and operations needed to achieve the identified long-term goals and priorities that are consistent with policies and practices that will ensure the long-term financial stability of the district.
• Consider actions to be implemented to establish a long-term, meaningful and ongoing communication process with the residents of the district.