Pre-Bond Issue Campaign Checklist

By Dan Obrynba

Passing a bond issue is often required by school districts to generate the revenue needed for facilities improvements, but today’s voters require strategic community engagement to turn out in favor of a referendum. Before pursuing a bond issue, consider these questions to gauge where your campaign is strong, and where it may need improvement in order to be successful.

Do you have the right solution?

  • Is it in the best interest of your students?
  • Do you have the support of your staff?
  • Does it align with your district strategic plan?
  • Does it fit the needs of your community?
  • Have you used an open, honest community engagement process?
  • Is it affordable? Does the millage stay within limits previously determined as acceptable?
  • Is the Board of Education behind it 100%? Bond issues will never pass if the community recognizes the Board of Education is not fully united and supportive of the proposed plan.

What is the current economic climate (employment, inflation)?

  • Local?
  • National?
  • Have recent issues passed (adding to the local tax burden)?

What is the perceived need?

  • Have you had an independent assessment of your building and site conditions (security, roofing, windows, finishes, mechanical systems electrical systems, technology)?
  • Are there groups promoting improvements because they are aware of deficiencies that hold back student performance (athletics, theater, music, academic)?
  • Have neighboring districts improved their facilities? Often the “good enough” attitude is overcome by seeing that neighboring school systems have made the commitment to improve facilities for their students.
  • How is the district performing academically? Research has shown that modern student-centered learning environments result in improved academic achievement. Modern facilities, programming and techniques (such as project based learning) can make the difference to get disinterested students re-engaged.
  • Is the community aware of challenges and opportunities? They must be aware, engaged and a part of the solution. The community must have ownership in the plan for it to be successful.

Does the proposed solution have elements that appeal to a broad number of interests?

  • Solutions for all grade levels?
  • Increased student learning opportunities?
  • Improved operational efficiencies?
  • Reduced operational costs?
  • Improved safety?
  • Features for those without students? Are there elements of the building that can be shared with the community after hours (athletics, fitness, meeting rooms, banquet spaces, etc.)?

Is there a sense of urgency?

  • Safe, dry and warm issues? With so many school shootings in recent history, one of the highest interests for facility improvement is in security. Students need to feel secure but also must be comfortable in order to maximize their academic growth.
  • Badly deteriorated facilities?
  • Interest rates increasing?
  • Construction costs increasing?
  • Limited program delivery? As curriculum delivery methodologies shift to more effectively address the various ways each student learns, often that has an impact on the space where learning occurs. We now know a variety of learning environments are needed, such as outdoor learning spaces, individual space, small group space, project labs and presentation spaces. Learning environments must have variety, flexibility and connectivity.

Is the district celebrating successful accomplishments?

Community pride is typically at its peak for a period of time after recent significant student accomplishments. For districts seeking a bond issue, this time has proven to be best as voters are generally very supportive. Significant accomplishments might include:

  • Athletic championships
  • Academic recognitions
  • Celebrated arts performances (music, theater, etc.)

Are there respected residents that will endorse the project?

Bond issue support is always elevated when a highly respected resident puts their name behind it. Those residents could be:

  • Accomplished graduates
  • Successful athletes
  • City officials
  • Union leaders

Do you have existing groups that will support a campaign?

  • Athletic boosters
  • Academic boosters
  • Parents clubs

Using this checklist as a starting point will help you and your team to identify how to approach your campaign, and the best time to put it in motion. With the right combination of timing, approach and engagement, you will pass your bond issue and improve learning for your students.