Managing a public school bond campaign is a challenging undertaking with many moving parts. A successful campaign requires the ability of the district to create, communicate, and excite the community with visions of the future while balancing the realities of a potential tax increase for voters. Ultimately, a successful school bond campaign educates voters so they understand and accept benefits outweigh costs. The challenge most districts face is how to shift the conversations from brick and mortar to values and beliefs.
We’ve worked with school districts for decades, helping them lay the foundation for success when it comes to stakeholder support. In our experience, five key factors can make or break the bond effort for your district and the students you serve.
- Invest in the power of partnerships. Schools that thrive find ways to create symbiotic relationships with the community—from nonprofits and corporations to leaders in City Hall. These communities need strong schools to recruit talented staff, bring new companies to town and educate tomorrow’s workforce with the skills that will be needed for tomorrow’s jobs. When preparing for the future—whether investments are needed in technology, buildings or transportation–these partnerships can lend a hand to the planning process. For example, a district with aging buildings that no longer meet the needs of enrollment and/or curriculum requirements is wise to engage professionals from the design and construction industry to help conduct facility assessments, identify associated costs and schedule for renovation or demolition. They can also review any demographic analysis or other studies conducted that may inform what facilities the district may need in the next decade. Professionals are often willing to provide a certain range of services at very little cost to help the district create the plan, with no guarantee of future paid work. It’s part of being a good community partner and working together to achieve the big picture.
- Get the collegiate perspective. With the landscape of higher education ever changing and the needs and demands for student skills always evolving, school district leaders are wise to gather input from local and state higher education administrators to find out what makes for a prepared college student. Community colleges, technical schools and traditional four-year universities all look for key knowledge, traits and skill sets in incoming students—both hard and soft skills that are needed for success in post-secondary education and the world beyond. How their input can impact learning in the K-12 sector is something to consider.
- Hone your message. Once your district has a plan for a proposed package, you need to communicate the vision. Elevate the conversation above laptops, buses or brick buildings to the larger goal—the values and beliefs your district wants to improve upon. Is it student safety? 21st century learning? Life-long wellness? Or simply getting students out of portables? Communicating how the bond package underscores those type of core values reinforces a mission-driven approach that’s hard to vote against.
- Enlist some cheerleaders. Once you’ve identified your themes and have something for everyone to believe in, your district needs to not only communicate the what of the campaign but also the why of your campaign. If you’ve engage with local design professionals as you plan the bond, you’ll also have an array of conceptual images that help generate excitement and make the vision come to life. Armed with the what, the why and those illustrations, your district cheerleaders are ready to talk to a variety of stakeholders—parents, teachers, city leaders, business owners, the media and other key groups like local building contractors, parts and materials suppliers, and school equipment vendors. Think beyond school board meetings to connecting directly with local centers of influence. Small dinners, luncheons and one-one meetings with influential members of the community allow your leadership team to answer questions and get them on board in support of the vote so they can become your advocates.
- Celebrate and share your success. If your bond effort was successful, thank your stakeholders, cheerleaders and advocates who made it possible. Throw a district party—you’ve earned it! You have a great story now to tell—and likely quite a few lessons learned along the way. Publicize ground breakings and ribbon cuttings. Share your experience with others through an article, award submission, presentation at a school board conference or similar event. Pay it forward by sharing what you know and further cement your district’s reputation as a thought leader in advancing education–and thereby setting your team up for success for the next time the district needs to garner public support.
* Editor’s Note:
KSQ NY Principal Scott Hillje and KSQ Charlotte Principal Doug Burns have led the firm’s effort to help local districts pass significant bond efforts. You can contact them for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.