A school bond provides a financial avenue for school districts to meet an immediate specified need. These specified needs can range from a new school, classroom building, gymnasium, or cafeteria to repairing an existing building, new buses, upgrades in classroom technology or security, etc. A school bond issue must be voted on by the members of the community in which the school is located. Most states require a three-fifths (60%) super-majority vote to pass a bond.
If the school bond passes, property owners in the community will foot the bill for the bond issue through increased property taxes. This can create a dilemma for voters in the community and is why many proposed bond issues do not receive enough “yes” votes to pass. It takes a lot of dedication, time, and hard work to pass a bond issue. When it passes it was well worth it, but when it fails it can be extremely disappointing. There is no exact science for passing a bond issue. However, there are strategies that when implemented can help improve the chances that the bond issue will pass.
Build a Foundation
The district superintendent and the school board are often the driving forces behind a school bond issue. They are also responsible for getting out into the community, building relationships, and keeping people informed about what is happening with the district. It is vital to have good standing relationships with powerful civic groups and key business owners within a community if you want your bond to be passed. This process should be continuous and ongoing over time. It should not happen just because you're trying to pass a bond.
A strong superintendent will make their school the focal point of the community. They will work hard to forge those relationships that will pay off in times of need. They will make community involvement a priority inviting members into the school not only see what is going on but to become a part of the process themselves. Potentially passing a bond issue is just one of the many rewards that come with this holistic approach to community involvement.
Organize and Plan
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of passing a school bond is to be well organized and to have a solid plan in place. This begins with forming a committee that is as dedicated to seeing the bond passed as you are. It is necessary to note that most states prohibit schools from using their own resources or time to lobby on behalf of a bond issue. If teachers or administrators are to participate on the committee, it must be on their own time.
A strong committee will consist of school board members, administrators, teachers, advisory councils, business leaders, parents, and students. The committee should be kept as small as possible so that a consensus can be reached easier. The committee should discuss and create a detailed plan on all aspects of the bond including timing, finances, and campaigning. A specific task should be given to each committee member to carry out according to their individual strengths.
A school bond campaign should start approximately two months before the vote is scheduled to occur. Everything occurring in those two months should be well thought out and planned in advance. No two bond campaigns are the same. It is likely that parts of the plan will have to be abandoned or changed after realizing that the approach is not working.
Establish a Need
It is essential to establish a real need in your bond campaign. Most districts have a list of projects that they believe need to be completed. When deciding what you are going to put in the bond it is vital to look at two factors: immediate need and investment in your student body. In other words, put projects on the ballot that will resonate with voters who understand the value of education and show them there is a need.
Make those connections apart of your campaign and bundle things where appropriate. If you are trying to build a new gymnasium, package it as a multipurpose facility that will not only serve as a gymnasium but as a community center and auditorium so that it can be used by all students and not just a select few. If you are trying to pass a bond for new buses, be prepared to explain how much money you are currently spending to maintain your bus fleet that is outdated and run down. You can even use a deteriorated bus in your campaign by parking it in front of the school with information about the bond.
It is essential to be honest with the constituents in your district. Property owners want to know how much their taxes are going to go up if the bond issue is passed. You should not skirt around this issue. Be direct and honest with them and always use the opportunity to explain to them what their investment will do for students in the district. If you are not honest with them, you may pass the first bond issue, but it will be more difficult when you try to pass the next one.
Campaign! Campaign! Campaign!
When campaigning begins it is beneficial to keep the message simple. Be specific with your message including the voting date, how much the bond is for, and some simple highlights of what it will be used for. If a voter asks for more information, then be prepared with more details.
Campaigning efforts should be holistic with a goal of getting the word out to every registered voter in the district. Campaigning occurs in many different forms, and each form may reach a different subset of constituents. Some of the most popular forms of campaigning include:
- Build a Website - Create a website that gives voters detailed information about the bond issue.
- Campaign Signs/Posters - Put campaign signs in supporters' yards and posters in high traffic locations such as the post office.
- Speaking Engagements - Schedule speaking engagements with civic groups in the community such as the Senior Citizen Center, Masonic Lodge, etc.
- Organize a Voter Registration Drive - A voter registration drive allows you to recruit newcomers and potential supporters who might not vote otherwise.
- Door to Door Canvassing - Simple word of mouth campaigning may make the difference especially in reminding voters to get to the polls.
- Telephone Committee - A simple way to poll voters in the community as well as to inform them about the bond issue and to remind them to vote.
- Direct Mail - Send flyers highlighting the bond issue out a few days before the vote.
- Media - Use the media to get the message out when possible.
Focus on Uncertainty
There are some constituents that have their minds made up on a bond issue before you even decide to do it. Some people always vote yes, and some people always vote no. Do not waste time on trying to convince the “no” votes that they should vote “yes”. Instead, focus on getting those “yes” votes to the polls. However, it is most valuable to invest your time and effort on those in the community that have not decided. Visit with those on the fence 3-4 times throughout the campaign to try and sway them to vote “yes”. They are the people who will ultimately decide whether the bond passes or fails.