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A regular update from the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown’s McCourt School. 
After a presentation on the bleak financial forecast coming to districts, one leader pulled Marguerite aside and whispered: “It’s already happening in our district. But we’re not ready to talk about it.” 
That’s not uncommon. As Marguerite wrote in The Grade, it’s right there in the district budget forecasts — though few have yet to ring the warning bell.

We get it. It’s not fun delivering bad news. People get mad and blame leaders. Why upset everyone before getting a plan in place? 

But a bigger issue is that people lose trust when they’re blindsided.

So, the trick is to move quickly to share tough financial news in a way that doesn’t erode trust with staff and parents. It turns out, most of our instincts aren’t helpful here.
Over the years, Edunomics Lab has commissioned lots of messaging research on district finances. Here’s some of what we’ve learned:

Don’t soft pedal. And avoid business-y terms, like deficit, efficiency, or productivity. (This one’s hard for Edunomics. So much of our vocabulary popped up on the “No” list.) 

It’s a mistake to talk finance and not mention kids. It’s not enough to commit to protecting schools, staff, or classrooms. Leaders must be clear they are focused on students

Here’s a hard one: Leaders must invite communities to weigh in on different options, even if some seem like a bad idea. (Layoffs, program cuts, canceling raises, closures, furloughs.) Handing down an already-baked plan makes people feel the district is doing something to them, not with them. 
Building trust requires sharing regular, honest updates. Communications with employees and parents is increasingly part of the jobEspecially now as the stakes have never been higher.
Never got trained on ed finance comms? We cover it in our Certificate in Ed Finance. Lucky you, there are two cohorts coming up: one in NYC March 29-30, another in sunny Los Angeles April 12-13 (yes, sunny). Register here. Scholarships may be available. Questions? Email    

Years ago San Diego Unified created an interactive tool enabling the public to prioritize among potential cuts. Doing so increased transparency on options and provided a way to gather feedback on community preferences. 
In case you missed it:

No margin for error as the aid clock tickswrites Marguerite at The 74. Districts have 18 months to get students back on track and plan for the fiscal cliff when ESSER ends.

At The Grade, Marguerite suggests keeping an eye on five critical issues in this spring’s budget reporting.

What’s that about zombie schools? Marguerite talks enrollment declines with Christian Science Monitor; tells Chalkbeat that districts have not reckoned with the financial implications; and at K-12 Dive shares advice for districts facing possible school closures.
As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out with insights or suggestions:
Connect with us on Twitter:
@MargueriteRoza, @EdunomicsLab
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Edunomics Lab is a Georgetown University research center exploring and modeling complex education finance decisions to inform education policy and practice.
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