Two hurdles to a successful school bond election are a lack of understanding and a lack of trust on the part of the community. Suzanne Marchman, director of Educational Partnerships at Huckabee, helps inform school boards on how to communicate bond issues to communities. She offers these suggestions.
Clarify misconceptions about school bonds
What are common misconceptions voters may have when asked to consider school bonds?
1. All school district bonds are a tax rate increase.
That’s not true. Many districts are able to issue bonds without increasing the school district tax rate. This misunderstanding is further complicated by the new legislative requirement to include the statement “This is a property tax increase” on every ballot proposition.
2. If the district has had a recent bond election, they shouldn’t need another one.
In many fast-growth districts, a bond election may be needed every few years just to keep up with the growth. For example, 800 new students would fill a typical elementary school. Those students not only generate the need for additional facilities, but also buses, devices, desks and chairs, and other equipment.
3. It isn’t true that property taxes are frozen for citizens 65 and older.
As long as an over-65 homestead exemption is on file, the amount of school taxes paid should not increase (unless significant improvements are made to a home). There may not be a tax ceiling for other taxing entities, so as home values increase, their tax bills increase. The additional money is going to the other entities, not the school district. The school taxes should not increase after the year the homeowner turned 65.
4. School districts shouldn’t carry debt.
Most school districts in Texas carry debt from bond elections because that’s how they fund construction of new schools, construction to renovate older campuses, replacement of expensive life-cycle systems, and additional capital projects.
Involve community members in your school district bond program
When presenting a bond proposal, what can school districts do so that community members trust them to appropriately and effectively execute the bond projects and spend their bond dollars wisely?
Involve community members in the process by:
- Selecting projects that are appropriate for your school district.
- Being transparent about the process.
- Educating the community on your bond proposal.
- Following through by completing projects as promised to voters.