WAHOO – A pair of consultants who have been listening to the Wahoo community offered their report to the Wahoo Board of Education Monday evening.
Milan Wall and Larry Dlugash with Heartland Center for Leadership Development have been holding community focus groups and meeting with people as part of their community engagement contract with Wahoo Public Schools.
Their task was to glean information about why Wahoo Public School’s facility improvement bond question failed so badly last November and engage the community in what it might support.
Wall said they engaged about 100 people from a wide-cross section of the community, including the parochial schools. He said he felt the number of conversations was adequate to draw a summary because the message was consistent.
“We really heard pretty much the same thing over and over again,” he said.
According to Dlugash, people are generally happy with the community and both school systems.
There were many factors detailed for why the bond did not get support. Including ones that Wahoo Public Schools could not control.
Dlugash said those factors included such things as commodity prices, traditions/competiveness among schools, weather, rumors and social media.
There were also factors that were within the school’s control.
“We heard a lot about communication and much about communication wasn’t all that positive,” Wall said.
Community members didn’t feel engaged in the process during the planning and told the consultants the options presented during that process were not explained clearly.
“Whether that is true or not, I don’t know. But perception becomes reality,” Wall stated.
It was apparent, he added, that the district’s community engagement prior to the bond vote needed to be more effective.
There were also a series of issues presented Monday evening.
Dlugash said they heard that some members thought there was too much “frosting on the cake” as part of the proposed project.
There was also a lack of trust of the data. He said the district needs to repair trust and transparency on any next effort.
That didn’t mean, however, that the consultants couldn’t find people who supported the project. Dlugash said some did say they understood the district had needs and was growing.
“But, we have to distinguish between wants and needs,” he added.
He said there also seemed to be a perception in the community that even the board was not unified when it came to how to best address the needs of the district.
As to the argument presented by some last year that Wahoo’s enrollment is not growing at an average 1.5 percent each year, Dlugash said they did the research with the Nebraska Department of Education and found that number to be accurate.
Wall said some people also seemed to question facility planning for more than five years out, while others understood the need to look to a long-term vision. For any district, he said that can be a delicate balance.
That is equally true when it comes to projects that include athletics. The consultants found support in the community for a practice gym and repair of the track/football stadium, but the proposals last year in the bond project seemed to cross the need/want line.
Dlugash said all schools face that same dilemma when it comes to athletic project proposals.
Heartland Center for Leadership Development is working with other school districts with facility planning and community engagement.
“It would be good to reach out to them as far as strate-
gies,” he told the board.
Wall also suggested that any future approach to community education and consensus building be done through smaller working groups, rather than a large town hall approach.
Board President Rob Brigham asked the consultants to prepare a report with their recommendations and bring it back to the next board meeting for further discussion.
Board Member Mike Hancock said there was a lot of information to digest. He said it was information the board needed to hear as well.
For example, he agreed that the board probably wasn’t all on the same page as far as what was needed, but that has not previously been point blank stated.
Dlugash said he felt they received very open, very honest answers to the questions posed in the community.
“It was very consistent, straight forward,” he said.