Creativity and Innovation Can be Your Ally When Managing Cutbacks
ISSUE 55 | JANUARY 23, 2003
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This owl has been surveying board meetings and cabinet conferences from Eureka to San Diego. Everyone is debating about cutbacks. While the themes are similar, responses differ dramatically. Those who tap the creativity of citizens and staff are enjoying two benefits: a wider range of options, and greater unity of purpose.
Indeed, necessity is a mother. But it can also be the mother of invention.
Here is a smorgasbord of innovative ideas that may prove helpful as you wrestle with cutbacks of your own.
Invent new revenue sources. Santa Clara County educators tested political opinion, and discovered that 70 percent of the county's voters favor a parcel tax.
Change laws to allow schools to defer purchases, conduct more outsourcing, and charge fees for after-school events. Superintendent Jim Fleming of Capistrano Unified School District has led the California City School Superintendents group in its lobbying efforts. Dumb laws that are an obstacle to smarter buying practices can be undone.
Mobilize parents. Furious parents in well-to-do cities such as Santa Monica and Palos Verdes have taken political action after learning that cuts in their district could reach 30 percent. Districts in more affluent areas will suffer far worse under the governor's plan, and the parents in those communities know how to play hardball.
Turn to city councils for help. The three Bay Area counties of Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara are among the wealthiest in the country. Their citizens are looking to city councils to step up to the plate. This could mean more joint-use agreements for parks and libraries, as well as new taxes.
Cut the school year, but preserve people and programs. Oregon has lopped two weeks off of its school year. Its citizens chose to maintain the quality of educational service they delivered, even if for a shorter school year. Teachers are preparing to modify what they teach to account for damage to the school curriculum.
Confer, connect, and read. You can also get connected with others who have faced these dilemmas before. One such crossroad is the Public Strategies Group, a public sector consultancy that's an all-star team in the "reinventing government" game. One of its leaders, David Osborne, is the author of four books (including Reinventing Government and Banishing Bureaucracy), and was senior advisor to Vice President Al Gore, a position that placed him in charge of Gore's much praised National Performance Review. Another is Peter Hutchinson, a retired school superintendent from Minneapolis.
Their books are worth reading. The Reinventing Government Network Conference Web site is a rich body of advice and knowledge. Their conference, in Monterey, is scheduled for March 3-5. This owl recommends it highly.
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