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Letter to the editor: Provide a referendum all can be comfortable with


I am skeptical of the bond referendum for the Jamestown Public Schools. My skepticism does not stem from a fear of my taxes being raised. I believe our schools are underfunded and our teachers undercompensated. My concerns come from what I perceive to be the ad hoc process used to develop the referendum. My suspicions were raised based on experience. I have spent over 10 years as an analyst who coaches people making hard decisions using the principles of decision science.

Decision science teaches us is that we cannot judge the quality of a decision by its outcome. The world is far too uncertain for that. Rather, we need to focus on the quality of the process used to make the decision. When decisions are complicated people tend to focus on their immediate options rather than their values. For example, the referendum requires that Washington Elementary must be closed and a new football field must be built. Which desired outcomes does this option support? Does this option minimize long-term maintenance costs? What about those who value neighborhood schools? Were their desires accounted for? Does building a football field improve educational outcomes? These questions could be restated as things we value and could be used assess different options. Perhaps after accounting for the fact that a football field does nothing to raise academic performance and may increase long-term maintenance costs, it might be better to simply renovate what we already have. Or, maybe the current referendum is the best option. But this is hypothetical because we have no idea which options were considered, how the options were expected to impact different outcomes, or which desired outcomes were considered in making the choice. Failure to disclose this information in a coherent way is the height of irresponsible decision-making.

The book “Smart Choices” by Hammond et al. shows that responsible decisions follow a process that begins with articulating measurable outcomes first and generating options to meet those outcomes afterward. This requires engaging those impacted by a decision and documenting how you accounted for those impacts. It also insists you use an honest broker to help you stick to the process and fully account for all the possible options, even the bad ones. I urge everyone involved with this decision to educate themselves on what it takes to make responsible decisions and provide us with a referendum we can all be confident in.