7 Steps to Successfully Passing Your Next School Bond
A successful school bond election has a lot of moving parts. These seven steps can increase your district’s chances of passing its next bond.
Bonds are an important tool for districts seeking to update facilities, but with support wavering in recent years, districts need to be strategic in how they approach these elections.
Here are seven steps to help pass your next bond.
1. Take Your Time
Because the bond process is complex and requires many steps to be successful, plan to take your time. “Make sure you allow plenty of time for planning, assessment, and communication through the process,” said Grady Slaydon, south regional manager for TASB Facility Services.
One of the pitfalls many districts face is rushing through the process. This results in missing key steps, not enough time to build public consensus, and ultimately, a bond package failing at the polls. “At a minimum, I suggest that districts take at least a year to develop what their bond program is going to be,” said Slaydon.
2. Plan It Out
Districts are advised to think strategically and consider how their new buildings and facilities maintenance fit into a broader plan. Planning, including for bonds, need to be driven by the education of children and youth of the district. “A district will come to us and say that they’ve done a strategic plan,” said Slaydon. “And out of that we’ve decided that we need a long-range facilities plan.”
Break your planning process down into these components.
- District strategic plan
- Long-range facilities plan
- Financial plan
- Bond plan
Again, the north star for all the planning is the education of current and future students.
3. Assess Your Needs
Another thing that is essential in the planning for and implementation of a building and bond process is to do a comprehensive district-wide assessment process of facilities. Slaydon encourages boards to ask their superintendents about “the type of facilities assessment they’ve had done or are planning on doing as part of their long-range facilities plan.”
It is important that the assessment process consider the current issues and anticipated needs both for all campuses and district facilities. During that evaluation process, which should be conducted by experts, the key issues of the facilities need to be addressed. Furthermore, the quality, functionality, and educational effectiveness of school district facilities need to be assessed. Slaydon, states that “the educational needs of students need to be considered above all else during this process.”
4. Involve Your Community
Talking to your community about bond proposals and clearing up misconceptions can go a long way toward building support for your district, according to Jeff Clemmons, TASB’s division director of Facility Services.
“Transparency is key to driving community support,” said Clemmons. “The public may not be aware of how much it costs to build or renovate schools, particularly from a safety and security perspective. People often assume the cost is on par with residential buildings, but it’s a completely different set of rules and regulations, and we have to make sure we’re educating the public on the cost that is required from a design and construction standpoint.”
According to Slaydon, one of the keys to a successful bond process is “building trust with the voters.” School boards can work with their superintendents and staff to increase their chances of having a successful bond election by communicating with the community. This is essential in all cases, and especially important if there have been trust issues. Slaydon says, “Ultimately it comes down to ‘do the voters believe you’re going to do what you tell them you’re going to do?’”
Building consensus with the community takes time, so it’s important that you have clear strategies in place to inform and involve your community. According to Slaydon, building that communication link with the community can be done through open dialogue with individuals, open public forums, and community-based committees. Once you have a plan in place, remember to continue to communicate. “Once you’ve come up with a plan, make sure everyone understands what the plan is,” said Slaydon.
5. Involve Your Board
There are several things the board can do to help with the bond process. Slaydon says that “there needs to a consensus amongst board members.” He says it is important that you have “plenty of time so that consensus of the board and community can build during the planning process.” If the board is aligned with the bond process, the likelihood of the bond passing significantly increases. Slaydon says that the board should be “of one opinion regarding the timing of the bond.”
Again, communication is an essential part of the bond and long-range facilities process. Board members should understand how they can act as a conduit between the district and community in this process. They should have a clear understanding of what they can and should say during the process, especially once the bond election process has started.
6. Engage Your Supporters
According to Clemmons, making sure school staff, students, and volunteers are engaged with bond efforts is one of the best ways to build support for your school facility projects.
“Focusing on getting your ‘yes’ voters to turn out is often a more effective strategy for passing a bond than trying to change the minds of ‘no’ voters,” advises Clemmons. “If you can get your staff and their spouses, school volunteers, parents, and students who are of voting age out to the polls, you have a much better chance of getting your bond passed.”
Though Clemmons cautions that district resources cannot be used to advocate for bond proposals, he also notes that “board members did not lose their First Amendment right when they ran for public office.”
"Outside of school district resources and materials and funds, individual board members acting as private citizens can support the passage of the bond," said Clemmons. For more information on what board members can and cannot say during elections, see the TASB Legal Services eSource Article on Campaign Speech (pdf).
7. Avoid Common Mistakes
Slaydon suggests that school boards and superintendents work together with staff and others to avoid common mistakes during the bond process. Avoid the lack of or poor communication about the bond process; it can doom the passage of a bond in your district. Slaydon recalled a familiar story of a district he was associated with that didn’t communicate well on a bond process. He indicated that it was disheartening when a community member said to him, “If I’d have known, I would have voted for the bond issue.”
When it comes to a bond process, connection with and input from the community is essential. If the community is included in the process, then the likelihood of successfully passing your bond increases. “Make sure their input is counted. Allow community members to be real stakeholders by being involved and giving their input”, said Slaydon.
Lastly, Slaydon said that once you’ve gotten community input, ensure that the board and staff honor its input as outlined by the consensus of the long-range facilities or bond committee’s plan. “You want to avoid disconnecting from the community. Going a different direction from the input given by the community is always a bad idea, especially when you’ve asked them to serve on a planning committee and they have come to consensus,” he said.