An audit showing that the Blaine County School District needs to communicate better with the public comes as no surprise to the district board of trustees, who say the audit report released earlier this month shows them ways to improve.
The communications audit, conducted last spring by the National School Public Relations Association, is critical of the district in some areas, but overall finds that the fact that the audit was conducted at all demonstrates the district's "desire to improve communications with internal and external audiences."
"I think it was money well spent," board Chair Julie Dahlgren said. "I think it proves how serious we are about improving communications."
The audit cost the district about $14,000. Most of the information from the study came from 11 focus group sessions held in April. Six focus groups were comprised of members of the public and five involved district teachers, administrators and school board members.
The audit found that a "lack of trust" exists "between some stakeholders and the district."
"Based on input from the focus groups, the lack of trust has been present for several years, and according to some, has improved in the past few years," the audit report states. "Nonetheless, it is still an issue that must be addressed."
The audit found further that much of the school district information that goes to the public comes from either "word of mouth" or through the news media, rather than from the district itself. While information the public wants is generally available from the district, the district doesn't do enough to make the information readily available.
The audit also found that a communications component was lacking in the district's strategic plan.
"There is no communication plan for articulating and disseminating the goals and results of the plan to the stakeholders," the audit report states. "Adding these components will make the strategic plan more meaningful and comprehensive."
The audit report recommends that the district devote additional funds and resources to communications.
"Without it, the district is not likely to see much improvement in the quality or quantity of communications with its internal and external stakeholders," the report states.
The audit report recognizes the district's decision to show live webcasts of school board meetings as a step in the right direction.
Trustee Paul Bates, who suggested and developed the webcasts, said he was pleased with the report because "it's a great tool for us to move forward."
"It's got a lot of information we can use to be better," he said.
Trustee Steve Guthrie said he's glad that the board of trustees decided to have the audit conducted because "what comes out of it will be productive."
"I think we're one of the only small school districts in the nation that stopped and recognized we have some problems with communications, and I think this audit is a step in the right direction," he said.
District Superintendent Lonnie Barber could not be reached for comment by Tuesday. However, he has listed "more transparency" and better communications as one of his five major goals in his "professional growth plan" for the 2010-11 school year.
In his plan, Barber wrote that implementing suggestions in the communications audit will help improve communications. He further wrote that an objective is to have "less criticism about our lack of communications."
The 82-page report was released to the school board last week and is available on the district's website, www.blaineschools.org. It can be downloaded from the Sept. 14 school board meeting agenda.
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org