By Charles Heath, Partner, TBWB Strategies and Tom Cavanagh, Senior Vice President, HMC School Advisors
With the uncertainty of future state funding and suspensions of Level III developer fees, school districts must rely more heavily on local funding to support educational facilities improvements. While this necessitates the evaluation of potential GO bond measures, it is important for districts to realize that successful campaigns do not just happen on their own.
It is critical that districts develop a strategic roadmap to maximize their potential success at the ballot box. The following variables and best practices can maximize future success with local measures:
A good first step in any bond campaign is to develop a timeline. If your district is contemplating a potential measure in 2013, you need to act quickly; however, if you are considering something in 2014, you may have more time to develop a comprehensive strategy. Best practices suggest districts should allow a minimum of six months to properly prepare for an upcoming campaign. However, each community is unique, so seeking advice and guidance early is important and encouraged.
Know Your Stakeholders and Community
It is important to build internal buy-in from your district’s governing board, administration, and other stakeholders. Having internal opposition to a measure presents an additional barrier to overcome and can increase the difficulty in rallying your community’s support for the GO measure. Also, it is necessary to understand what your community’s tax tolerance is, and that your measure is within what your constituency is willing to pay.
Value of an Early Partnership
Typically, GO measures are not successful through the work of district leadership alone. To maximize your district’s potential for success, it is beneficial to assemble your team early in the process This can include a political strategist, financial advisor, bond counsel, and planning teams, among others.
Consider Past History
One of the biggest obstacles districts must overcome is past mistakes, real or perceived. Voters often forget about successful bond measures, but tend to remember when controversy has surrounded one. If your district’s last campaign experienced challenges, you will need to craft a strategy to overcome them to be successful in the future.
Mobilize People Through Communication
Often, districts are asking their communities to fund projects that are not visible, such as infrastructure investments. To instill trust and confidence as stewards of tax dollars, a communication strategy is necessary to inform and educate voters about the proposed spending of tax dollars and the fiscal management controls that will be administered by the district. To rally support for their measure, districts need to determine what the highest priorities of their community are and develop a communication piece that spotlights those improvements.
Future of Ballot Measures
Currently, school districts and community colleges are the main proponents seeking local funding through GO measures. However, as financial resources dwindle, intense competition for local public dollars will increase. Tax measures could one day include a multitude of participants, making proper planning and current success critical.