By Ben Velderman -
WHEATON, IL – When voters reject a proposed tax increase for schools, district officials generally respond in one of two ways.
Some school leaders respect the voters’ decision and carry out their duties the best they can without the additional revenue. Others, however, refuse to take ‘no’ for an answer and look for ways to wear down taxpayers in advance of another referendum vote.
Illinois taxpayer Mary Ann Vitone says leaders in her district – Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District 200 (CUSD 200) – have chosen the latter option after voters last spring overwhelmingly turned down a request for $17.6 million in additional tax revenue to build a new early childhood center.
And Vitone believes CUSD 200 leaders are attempting to manipulate voters through the use of a controversial communications strategy known as the Delphi Technique.
According to various sources, the Delphi Technique works something like this:
Officials representing a school district (or some other government body) hold a community meeting to gather input from citizens about which policies the district should pursue. But instead of seeking genuine feedback, district leaders manipulate the discussion so citizens end up “recommending” the very policies that the leaders wanted originally.
After the input meeting, district leaders take the recommended plan of action – created through audience manipulation – and put it on the ballot. The leaders effectively tell voters, “The community thinks we should proceed with that special building project (or tax increase, etc.), and anyone who disagrees with it is out-of-step with the majority.”
There are two premises behind the Delphi Technique, which – according to Wikipedia – is a communication technique that was developed during the Cold War.
The first is that many non-ideological Americans make their voting decisions based on what they think the majority supports. If their friends and neighbors all seem to be in favor of a something (a school tax increase, for example), they will probably support it too, just to be on the “winning team.”
This explains why political candidates and special interest groups work so hard to plant yard signs throughout a community just before an election. They’re trying to create a perception of majority support.
The second premise behind the Delphi Technique is that people are more likely to support a proposal if they feel a sense of ownership for it.
Education researcher Lynn Stuter explains: “If people believe an idea is theirs, they’ll support it. If they believe an idea is being forced on them, they’ll resist.”
Vitone tells EAGnews that CUSD 200 leaders appear to be following the Delphi Technique to the letter. The school district just completed the fourth of six scheduled “community engagement” sessions in which taxpayers are being asked to help develop a “vision” for the district.
The final input session will be held in June, after which the various community recommendations will be put in a report and presented to CUSD 200 school board members.
While it’s too early to know what the school board will do with the community’s “input,” Vitone believes they will use it to re-introduce the $17.6 million tax increase proposal to voters in the near future.