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Running Head: Bond Referendum
Involving Community Members in the
Bond Referendum Process:
A Literature Review
Today’s economic and global climate demands high levels of public support for public education. Across the nation many school districts are using dilapidated buildings and facilities. Further, urban sprawl continues to redistribute America’s population, altering the needs of many school districts (Frumkin, 2002). In order to remedy structural deficits in a school district, large construction projects are necessary. However, such projects typically require substantial tax increases, necessitating the passage of a bond referendum. Clear, constant communication is the key to successfully passing a bond referendum for a school district (Holt, Wendt, & Smith, 2006). Given the findings of the literature review, the components of an initiative proposal to further a bond referendum with community members will be identified by the researcher.
Today’s economic and global climate demands high levels of public support for public education. Across the nation many school districts are using dilapidated buildings and facilities. In the year 2000, the General Accounting Office reported that one third of all school districts in the nation had one or more buildings that needed to be repaired or replaced (US General Accounting Office, 2000). The average age of school facilities is 42 years (Holmes, 2000). Further, urban sprawl continues to redistribute America’s population, altering the needs of many school districts (Frumkin, 2002).
In order to remedy structural deficits in a school district, large construction projects are necessary. However, such projects typically require substantial tax increases, necessitating the passage of a bond referendum. The rules regarding bond referendums vary from state to state, but one thing is certain: Passing a bond referendum requires immense community support. This can be a daunting task because a large percentage of voters in the community do not have students participating in the public school system (Lifto & Senden, 2008).
Clear, constant communication is the key to successfully passing a bond referendum for a school district. Engaging community members vibrantly and consistently can assist school districts. Research and history has documented that successful campaigns have common themes, ideas, and procedures related to community interaction and community contact (Holt, Wendt, & Smith, 2006). Given the findings of the literature review, the components of an initiative proposal to further the bond referendum with community members will be identified by the researcher.
This review of relevant literature details the components that assist community engagement when passing a bond referendum. Research has demonstrated that obtaining accurate perceptions (Lifto & Senden, 2008), expanding community education programs (Oberholtzer, 1949), packaging a bond with other attractive community items (Ghent & Grant, 2007), and getting out the “yes” vote (Fairbank, 2006) can highly impact success for school districts. Each of these components will be utilized in tandem to achieve the greatest positive results possible.
Obtaining accurate perceptions. Fairbank (2006) suggests beginning the bond referendum process with a comprehensive survey or poll. This information can help a school district identify which projects are likely to be supported by the community at the current time. Fairbank (2006) does not suggest trying to raise funds for every conceivable project at one time. Instead, he recommends closely analyzing polling and survey data to determine less than 5 projects to package at once. Including too many projects at one time can distort the message that a school district sends to voters. Further, if voters do not support one segment of the project, they may vote down the entire bill, increasing the number of “no” votes.
Lifto and Senden (2008) remind school district officials to ensure that all groups are taken into consideration. Specifically, “alumni parents” are community members that need to be accessed. These individuals are frequent voters, and 54.4 percent of alumni parents voted in four or five recent district elections (Lifto & Senden, 2008). “Alumni parents” are parents whose children have graduated from the school within recent years. While it may seem likely that this cohort of individuals would support schools, research has shown that community members meeting this profile are often not in favor of expanding school buildings (Lifto & Senden, 2008). Specifically, this group of individuals is likely to be focusing upon personal retirement and the rising cost of college education. Due to this, these individuals are less likely to support a bond referendum for a school district. To engage these community members, constant communication in conjunction with significant community programming is recommended.
Learning the perceptions of different groups of community members is an essential step for school districts when planning to pass a bond referendum. Finding a proposal that will be supported by needs of the community is foundational.
Expanding community education programs. When seeking to positively influence the community regarding the need for new buildings or facilities, the presence of community education programs is vital. Community members without children attending school are more likely to vote for a bond referendum if they have a personal investment or experience with the school facilities (Holt, Wendt, & Smith, 2006). Further, the use of school tours can help to educate the public about the needs for a new building and the possibilities that a new building would bring to the community (Oberholtzer, 1949).
Specifically, sending a message that the community and the school district “need each other” can be helpful. In North Carolina, a community college used this message to remind community members of the vibrant community education programs that were provided within the facilities. Further, the school reached out to the community, reminding them that their presence on campus enhanced the school experience for everyone (Selingo, 2000).
In addition to publicizing the community programs, school districts can offer to increase programs with the help of the new facility (Oberholtzer, 1949). Adding swimming programs in school pools, technology literacy programs in school media centers, and babysitting services in family and consumer science center are a few examples of attractive programs to local residents. Creating a plan and sharing the plan with the community using pamphlets, the Internet, and local community organizations is a method to increase community members’ engagement levels with the school district.
Packaging bonds. Packaging a bond with other items that are valued by the community can increase the likelihood of residents to vote in favor of a bond referendum. Werbal (2001) suggests putting several worthy public projects together to bring more voters out to the polls. For example, including local libraries, outdoor tracks, and community meeting facilities in the bond referendum has been successful with many school districts in the past.
It is important to not that packaging many different items into a single bond referendum must be considered carefully. Most importantly, this practice has come under the scrutiny of law in several areas. The United States Supreme Court investigated a Georgia case that involved a packaged bond referendum. Although the school district was not found to be in violation, such negative press can be extremely detrimental to the campaign (Walsh, 1991). Further, if you put too many projects together, residents may suffer from “sticker shock.” To avoid this, Fairbank (2006) suggests using the data that you have collected in planning phases to guide the number of items that are included in the bond referendum. Creating a package that is attractive to a large sector of the voters is a delicate balance that must consider the needs, perceptions, and ideas of community members. However, using this method can powerfully affect change for school districts.
Getting out the yes vote. To ensure that voters go to the polls on election night, there are several research-based strategies that can be used. Building a campaign organization, mass call surveys, and a focus on “yes” votes are all suggested (Piele, 1983). First, it is essential to identify prominent community members to lead the initiative and the fundraising. Since campaigns can be costly, gaining partnerships in the community can be extremely helpful. Sharing information with local businesses is a good strategy. Identifying organizations such as the YMCA or Lion’s Club can also be helpful. Once a leadership team has been designated, this group can meet the needs of the community members for information and forum sessions. While the district administration still needs to reach out to the community directly, the campaign team can greatly support the effort.
Next, mass call surveys are important (Fairbank, 2006). All community members should receive a phone call or email. After the message is delivered, a two questions survey should follow. The survey should ask residents how they intend to vote in the bond referendum and their level of certainty regarding their decision. It is important to note that the results of these surveys should drive the campaign.
Holt, Wendt, and Smith (2006) strongly suggest that school districts only focus on “yes” votes after the initial survey. The authors note that school districts typically do not have the financial resources or time to change the minds of voters in the community, but they can encourage voters who support their ideals to share their views and vote on the day of the election. Further, the campaign organization targeting the community should also focus on “yes” votes. This strategy has been proven to be successful in a variety of school districts across the nation (Holt, Wendt, & Smith, 2006). Focusing on the positive community members is the most effective and efficient method when attempting to pass a bond referendum.
Engaging community members in the bond referendum process is a vital component for success. By appropriately monitoring community perceptions, expanding community education programs, packaging bonds, and getting out the “yes” vote, school districts can adequately reach community members. If community members are involved in the school district, then they will be likely to support necessary building and construction projects. Forging connections with the community is essential for the overall health of a school district. A school district cannot achieve its mission and vision alone. It must be a joint effort between all involved parties!
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transportation funding initiatives with s substantial transit component: case studies of ballot measures in eleven communities. Mineta Transportation Institute, Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://transweb.sjsu.edu/mtiportal/research/publications/summary/0117.html