A little over a month ago I set out to create a platform which would enable the residents of Springboro, Ohio to participate in an open discussion around the teachers contract proposals. At the time, I was considering a number of open source projects which required a minimal amount of coding in addition to the requisite database and server administration. When I stumbled across a news article discussing the unique ways people were using RapGenius for other types of documents, I thought I had found the path of least resistance. That was until a few weeks after the launch I when I received word from the Ohio School Board Association (OSBA) that they wouldn’t be able to participate due to the nature of the website.
The feedback from the OSBA could have had a chilling effect on my efforts if not for the repeated references to school policy in the public debate. One example from Springboro resident and parent David Bowman offers critical details about the school board proposals on his blog. Another example of an open letter to the school board from a group of Springboro alumni calls for the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee as per Section 9140 of the Springboro School Policies. These examples alongside the efforts of Springboro United for Responsible Education (SURE) to find a balanced approach to our children’s education underscore the fact that people are interested in local policy, but have yet to find a way to get more involved in its creation.
In response to the feedback I’ve received from the OSBA, the Board of Education, as well as local parents and residents, I’m proud to announce that the contracts, policies, and ordinances which govern our community is now available at SpringboroCode.org. There you will find links to the contract negotiations on RapGenius, alongside the other open source projects which I investigated at the beginning of my project, including the complete set of Bylaws and Policies of the Springboro Community City Schools and the Codified Ordinances of Springboro, Ohio, both of which are free to download from GitHub. You can also find an interactive beta of the teacher’s contract which is meant to provide a more family-friendly platform to discuss the proposals from the board.
Making the code more accessible is an important first step towards an Open Springboro, but it is important to note that this is not an end goal in and of itself. Much like making the code available for more familiar open platforms such as Android and WordPress, what matters most is what local residents can do with the code to improve our community. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, residents of larger cities are using open access to the law for a variety of purposes, but the challenge for Springboro residents isn’t to generate new ways to spend local tax dollars. Instead, we should be looking for ways to open the discussion to more people in order to find solutions to the problems we are facing using the resources at our disposal.
As an Innovation Designer at LexisNexis, I’ve learned that simply asking for money isn’t an option in today’s economy. Whether you’re talking about the corporate or the government sector, money is tight, but resources are available as long as you focus on what people are actively working on. The bottom up approach can only go so far as people’s interests are invariably pulled in a number of directions while a top down approach tends to promote institutional processes that limit access to innovative ideas. By aligning the goals of the top to the passion at the bottom, we can affect change that doesn’t require additional resources apart from the time necessary to look at the problem from a different perspective.
For my part, it would appear that the school board is struggling to align with the community on a number of key policy changes, while both the Springboro alumni and SURE and pushing for greater involvement in the process. While the Springboro code may not be an end goal, it does provide a starting point on which to build a more inclusive conversation.
Do you have any ideas on how to use the Springboro code to solve local issues? Post them in the comments below!