Spotlight on K-12 Master Planning

Long-term planning in the K-12 realm can be a source of great debate amongst teachers, administrators and staff in a school district. Coming to a consensus as to what is important and what can wait is critical in the maintenance of a smoothly run district. Todd Spore, partner at PBK Architects, has long dealt with K-12 master planning. He sat down with School Planning & Management to answer a few questions about the topic. 

Q. Once operational needs are identified, is there an easy way to come to a consensus on what is urgent and what can wait? Is there a standard for classifying these needs in a long-term plan?

A. Consensus is never easy.  It requires standardized and data-driven decision-making process.  A proven process has been:

1) Establish a shared definition of a priority schedule, such as:

Priority Must Do: Immediate needs relating to growth/demographic changes; Facilities Assessment life-cycle replacements, age of facilities; programmatic needs; district and community needs; safety & security; one-to-three-year projects.

Priority 2:  Should Do:  Programmatic needs; Facilities Assessment life-cycle needs, etc.; three-to-five-year projects.

Priority 3:Would Like to Do:  Programmatic needs; Facilities Assessment life-cycle needs, etc.; five-to-10 year projects.

2)Agree upon a decision-making process to be very clear with a community group how decisions will be made. Providing a third party “unbiased” facilitator is critical for success.

3) Present the projects, the priorities, and the pricing to the committee in a systematic way, allowing for questions and feedback.

4) Use a deliberation system and technology to create a transparent, real-time construction of the bond referendum by the committee. This process has been utilized multiple times with repeated success.

Q. What are some good ways to involve the community in long-range district or campus planning?

A. Large community bond planning committees can be very empowering for the district and the community if they are pre-planned, strategized, and handled wisely.  A long-range facilities plan, developed by the district and professional architects, is a very useful springboard for discussions among the community committee members who ultimately make the decisions regarding the addition of new facilities or the renovation of existing facilities. The community committee can debate the priorities assigned by the district and even change them to reflect the will of the community.  

The benefits of this exchange far outweigh the risks. In following a successful bond referendum, the committee can be asked to serve on a Bond Review Committee that meets quarterly for the length of the bond and receives a report on the bond-funded projects (perhaps even visiting construction sites). In addition, periodic, informative e-blast (newsletters) and a dedicated long-range planning website containing various planning resources and information are effective at educating communities on progress, accomplishments, and future objectives. This assures the on-going support of the community and produces the start of a new committee when an additional bond is considered.

Q. Are there any pitfalls or sticky issues in K-12 long-range planning that administrators or other officials sometimes forget to take into account that may have a big impact?

A. There are many variables in good long-range planning and the consideration of a bond referendum that fall into the risk-benefit column:

  • Is the committee representative of district demographics, including some teachers and principals?
  • What is the trust level in the community for the district?
  • Is the district staff happy?
  • Is the district considering a bond election when there are other taxing entities on the ballot?
  • Has an opinion survey been considered to help answer public perception questions?
  • Is the district considering a May or November bonding cycle?
  • Does the facilities assessment include a walk-through of facilities and input from campus principals?
  • Is organized opposition included among the community members on a committee?
  • Is the board supportive of a possible bond referendum?