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Quick tips, kitchen-table terms 

While it’s common for school leaders to tackle multimillion-dollar budgets, the mandates of higher governments and sometimes baffling regulations, ordinary citizens may find it difficult to understand the information quickly enough to offer helpful guidance and support.


Make the issue understandable by limiting the use of jargon, putting large numbers in context, and avoiding burying the audience in details that don’t matter. When you think you’ve boiled the information down into digestible bites, try sharing them with a person from outside of the education world to get their reaction.

Think visually. Develop charts that point out crucial financial gaps or changes, infographics that make the numbers more friendly, or even a video demonstrating what’s at stake.
Use analogies to family budgets when discussing fiscal issues, recommends school communications consultant Tom DeLapp. If you’re concerned about depleting your LEA’s reserves, for example, put that in kitchen-table terms: “If we use our savings on a monthly car payment, they’ll repo our car when the savings dry up.”

DeLapp also recommends that districts treat the budget section of their website like a financial lesson plan. Your website isn’t a document warehouse; it’s an online class in school finance. Begin every report, graph or document with a brief summary. “Don’t make readers do too much homework or interpreting,” DeLapp advises. “They will lose interest.”
Another way to make large numbers relatable is to break them into pieces that people understand: for example, how many teachers could be funded with that budget figure your board is grappling with? Do the math—in human terms.

One of the most important elements of communicating about fiscal issues is to frame conversations in terms of what is important to save, not just what needs to be cut. An organization’s budget is the embodiment of its values, and how you invest resources illustrates what is important to you as a community. Work with the community to identify shared core values, and the fiscal priorities will follow.

—Trinette Marquis-Hobbs