School board hires firm to perform audit

Seven-member committee will begin preparations

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— As the communications audit of the Steamboat Springs School District nears, the Board of Education has commissioned a subcommittee to help prepare for it.

Last month the board agreed to hire the National School Public Relations Association to perform the audit, which will cost about $10,000.

In the next week or so, the seven-member subcommittee will meet to begin preparations for the arrival of an NSPRA auditor, board member Paula Stephenson said.

The decisions to be made by the subcommittee include how many focus groups will be used for the audit, the number of participants in each focus group, how the focus groups will be assembled and what questions will be addressed by the focus groups, Stephenson said.

The audit stems from a request for a school survey made by Citizens for Education, formerly Parents for Dr. D., in response to the ongoing conflicts between Superintendent Cyndy Simms and Strawberry Park Elementary School Principal John DeVincentis.

Citizens for Education wanted a survey to address district issues and personnel, but the board decided to go with a communications audit that will use community focus groups to pinpoint organizational issues and work toward possible solutions.

District employees, board members and interested members of the community will make up the focus groups. The subcommittee plans to advertise the audit in the Steamboat Pilot & Today to encourage community involvement.

An audit using focus groups was selected over a survey because surveys fail to provide a 'why' or a plan for the future, Stephenson said at the Jan. 6 board study session.

According to NSPRA, the communications audit will have three major steps: Analyzing the current program, including existing district policies and strategies; listening to various audiences; and developing constructive recommendations for improving communications.

Citizens for Education chairman Scott Crouch, who is a member of the subcommittee, said he is concerned the audit might not explore all the issues that need to be addressed.

"There's a lot of other issues out there," Crouch said. "I don't know if (the audit) is going deep enough, but I don't know enough details yet."

The focus groups, which will each meet for about an hour, will be structured. The system is not designed to be a forum for unlimited discussion on numerous issues, Stephenson said.

"It's not going to be a free for all," she said. "There will be at least eight questions in terms of general information and probably four of five dealing with specific district issues."

The same NSPRA auditor will lead each focus group, and the groups probably will convene over a two-day period in late-April, Stephenson said.

NSPRA will compile a detailed report of the audit.

The report will include recommendations for solutions to district issues.

Community members interested in participating in the audit but not available to meet with a focus group can fill out a survey asking the same questions posed for the focus groups.

The subcommittee is comprised of Simms, Stephenson, Crouch, Middle School Principal Tim Bishop, teacher representative Mike Smith, district staff representative Anne Muhme and a to-be-determined community member.

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