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A Connecticut School District
School Bond Issue

Smithwood is a prominent Connecticut school district that runs two elementary, one middle, and one high school for about 1800 students K-12 in two relatively affluent, suburban towns. ("Smithwood" is a fictitious name, but represents a real district with whom we have worked.) In addition, they run a Vocational-Agricultural magnet program as an adjunct to the high school which educates an additional 200 students from out of the district. The quality of education is generally perceived as high with test scores averaging well above state average and showing steady improvement over the past few years. The elementary school won the prestigious Blue Ribbon Award last year from the Federal Department of Education. The district has been gradually implementing a Total Quality Management program under the guidance of the Juran Institute for the past four years and takes pride in the work of their problem solving teams, in their customer satisfaction surveys, and in their work toward the Malcolm Baldridge award.

The challenge:
In March 1994, the district introduced a request for an $18.5 million bond issue for expansion and improvements in three of the four schools in the district. Four open public forums were held, but sparsely attended. In May, the bond issue was defeated, with very low voter turnout. In October 1994, the district reintroduced the bond issue after scaling it back to $17.8 million. In January 1995, the bond issue was defeated again, with slightly higher turnout.

The defeat was attributed by the district to a couple dozen highly vocal citizens, several of whom are in elected positions with fiscal responsibility, who are able to sway voters. One of the key points raised was the uncertainty in the Vo-Ag funding which left district taxpayers picking up over $200,000 in costs for out of district students. In November 1995, the district reintroduced the bond issue again, substantially unchanged. The issues which separated the two sides appear unresolved. The next vote is scheduled for January 1996.

We interviewed a cross section of people on both sides of the issue and reviewed the newspaper articles published on the subject. The focus was primarily on how the communication took place in customer service terms. Specifically, did the supplier (the school district) listen carefully to the needs of the customer (the taxpayers) and treat the customer as a respected partner and important source of ideas and insight? This customer orientation is part of the very foundation of TQM and is one measure for how far TQM has been implemented in the district.

We found rational, articulate, knowledgeable people on both the supplier and customer sides who are very supportive of education. They are generally pleased with the quality of education being delivered and with the quality of the majority of the staff. They are also concerned about fiscal responsibility and getting the most value out of the taxpayer dollar. Many are successful business people and feel that their experiences and ideas can make a valuable contribution to the discussion. There were no polemics or radical positions expressed.

Many of the customers, however, feel that they are being given insufficient and inconsistent and possibly misleading information, that their contributions have been dismissed without serious consideration, and that the district has hidden agendas which effectively shut out outside influence. Feelings of trust and partnership are seriously strained. A few examples of incidents cited are appropriate:

Short Quote:

Case Study
© Copyright 1996, 2000, HP Management Decisions Ltd., All Rights Reserved.

Author:Kelley, Mike
Title:Connecticut School District #14, School Bond Issue
Place (City):
Publication Date:12/4/95
Source Type:
Quote Number:203
Categories:Customer Service, Case Studies