Cause for concern in district response
FOR months, it has been proclaimed that education is a top issue for Oklahomans. But you can’t always tell it based on citizen participation in school issues. Oklahoma City provides the latest example. The district is implementing its “Pathway to Greatness” project. Among other things, the important project could lead to closure of underused buildings and then to increased services and programs as operational savings are redirected. (The district operates as if it has 60,000 students when it has 38,000, excluding charter school students.)
As part of the process, the district has solicited input via an online survey and through a series of community meetings. According to a news release from the district, the online survey generated responses from roughly 3,000 individuals, and the community meetings drew around 800.
That’s a total of up to 3,800 people, which isn’t bad as these things go, although the actual number may be lower if people who submitted survey responses also attended community meetings.
Even so, it’s worth noting that Oklahoma City Public Schools reports it employs 4,600 administrators, teachers and support personnel. The families of roughly 46,000 students also are impacted. And, given how local community leaders tout the importance of a good school system to the city’s long-term economic growth, the entire population within the Oklahoma City limits, around 643,000 according to Census estimates, should also be concerned.
Yet the number of people who have provided feedback to the school district, so far, isn’t even equal to the number of people employed by the district. To date, the district reports 26.89 percent of survey responses came from staff members, which equals around 1,020 individuals. That means the vast majority of school district employees has yet to offer survey input.
The district reports 61.48 percent of survey responses came from OKCPS parents or caregivers, which translates to fewer than 1,850. Even if every family/caregiver accounts for three students apiece, that means the district has heard from only 1-in-8 parents through the survey, if not fewer.
As for members of the broader community, they account for fewer than 300 responses, based on figures provided by the district.
If education is really a top concern for local civic leaders, parents and advocates, why aren’t more people involved? Several explanations seem possible, including a perception that initiatives such as “Pathway to Greatness” are empty gestures and nothing will change.
The lack of participation also is in keeping with trends statewide. The number of people who vote in school board and school bond elections is normally a fraction of those who participate in other elections. The most extreme example is a 2013 bond election in the Crutcho district in Oklahoma County that drew just five voters with two of them school board members. There are logistical problems that contribute to low voter participation, and we’ve supported moving school elections to high-turnout dates when other races are on the ballot.
Even so, there’s a gap between the share of people who say education is a priority and the share involving themselves in education policy. Demanding “more education funding” is easy. But ensuring schools are well run is the real challenge.