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South Middleton School Board members are weighing the timing of when to implement a social media platform designed to gather public input for strategic planning.

Superintendent Matthew Strine wants to start Thought Exchange during the final months of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. But some board members question the need to follow through on his request on March 18 when a vote could be taken.

Thought Exchange would enable the district to field survey questions to targeted groups to obtain input on new ideas and possible courses of action. Strine said the platform could serve as an integral part of a strategy to improve communications within the district and its four school buildings and between the district and the public.

Recent turnover in staff positions has freed up for reallocation an estimated $40,000 originally budgeted for salaries, Strine said. For example, the assistant business manager position became vacant after Nicole Weber was appointed the interim business manager upon the departure of Matthew Ulmer.

About $8,000 could be used to implement Thought Exchange in early April instead of early July, when Strine wants to start the rollout of a draft version of the district comprehensive plan. Strine said the $8,000 is the initial payment on a 16-month $32,000 contract.

Board member John Greenbaum would rather see the contract be part of the budget process for 2019-20 than voted on at the March 18 meeting. “I don’t see why we need to rush it through,” Greenbaum said.

“We don’t know how this year is going to pan out,” fellow board member Denise MacIvor said. “If we have a savings from another budget item that we are not spending, what are my other choices on how to spend that money? We should know what all of those choices are.”

As part of the strategic plan process, Strine has gathered input from focus groups on how to align the goals of a South Middleton education with the resources available to the district.

Strine said implementing Thought Exchange in April would give him more time to collect public input, gauge public sentiment, review the data and prepare a more complete narrative for the final stages of the comprehensive plan.

Including Thought Exchange in the budget process for 2019-20 would delay its implementation until after July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year. The district has until Nov. 30 to submit a new comprehensive plan to the state Department of Education.

Thought Exchange could be used to obtain input directly from residents who respond to online survey questions by posting anonymous comments that other people could then rate. The thoughts with the greatest star value get pushed to the top of the ranking while others are pushed to the bottom, Strine said.

The platform was discussed in past community relation meetings chaired by board member Elizabeth Meikrantz. In voicing her support of Thought Exchange, she said the system would be a great way to give people a voice. Meikrantz said the platform would open up the process to introverts so that school board members could factor in all input and not just the thoughts of the most vocal people in the community.

Board president Michael Berk said Thought Exchange is a way for the district to receive input from parents too busy to attend school board meetings.

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Email Joseph Cress at jcress@cumberlink.com.

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