When is the best time for a school district to run a bond?
Determining when to run a bond for new school buildings and capital facilities can be a positively daunting task to many school boards and superintendents throughout the country.
How do you begin? How do you approach your community? What if you need to run another measure such as a levy at the same time?
Here are six simple questions to consider before sharing the cost of a capital facilities bond with your community and how much money the bond will take out of their pockets in cost-per-thousand assessed valuations.
Question #1: Who has the time?
Who has time in your organization to take on the nearly overwhelming tasks of preparing, planning, communicating and directing the bond efforts? Typically, superintendents are called upon to plan and implement every aspect of bond proposals. Superintendent responsibilities for the daily operations of the school district and leading an educational system are difficult enough without piling on the myriad of tasks involved in planning and executing bond measures.
Make sure to divide the projects among multiple individuals, even a committee, to ensure that everyone can stay on top of their regular duties while also handling the needs of an upcoming bond measure.
Question #2: What capital facility improvements are included in your district’s bond proposal?
Who determines the elements of the bond proposal and what research is used to determine those elements? Why are the district’s current facilities not meeting the needs of the student, staff, and community? Many times, generic reasons such as need to build capacity, aged facilities, and increased student enrollment are communicated to the community at large as justification for the bond measure.
Although those reasons may be legitimate, the need to provide accurate detailed and specific information to an informed community is of paramount importance and can make the difference between passing or failing a bond measure.
Question #3: What will your community really support?
Find out what your community will support or, hopefully, embrace. Guessing or falling back on past experiences can be fatal for a bond measure. Sometimes, the elements and the need for a school bond have changed since your district’s last measure was passed.
You need to reach out to your community to discover how they see the school system and its needs before you present a bond project, not after.
Question #4: Did you hear me?
Give your community an opportunity to participate by implementing two-way communications. Listen and learn from your community. The ability to demonstrate that you genuinely care for hearing the good, bad and ugly from your community has lasting positive effects well before or beyond any bond proposal.
Question #5: Do you have another measure running?
Conventional wisdom dictated that school districts should never run a bond with a levy on the same ballot. However, recent studies are beginning to show a change in that way of thinking with many school districts experiencing success running multiple measures at the same time.
Of course, you should consider your own community’s approval history. Do you receive a high passage rate on all measures? Are your measures often close? Do you need multiple levies such as a Maintenance & Operations Levy and a Tech Levy?
Reach out to your community and ask them what they think. Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) guidelines dictate that you cannot ask whether a community member will vote yes on a bond, however you can ask community members what their priorities are for school improvements. This rule may vary state-by-state so you will want to check with your state’s election commission to be sure prior to asking survey or interview questions.
Question #6: When should you run your bond measure?
Bond elections can run at several points throughout a year and when you run them can be somewhat independent of when the district intends to start the project (along as this information is included in your messaging). You should always check your state’s specific regulations on election timing, of course.
To help determine when to run your bond, you refer to the voter records of past measures. Voter records are available for free from your county, and can be positively invaluable in helping you see, historically, when measures are more likely to succeed.
Once you have considered these simple questions, you can determine what your bond proposal should include and the right time to put the bond measure out to your community for vote.
You will be surprised how these tactics will save you both money and time while investing in the future of your school district.
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edTactics specializes in Community Outreach, Facility Planning, Leadership Coaching and Communications Strategies. School districts have successfully implemented Continuous Improvement Plans using the data and strategies from our professional, practical and affordable services. When you need assistance, contact edTactics for free consultation and to discuss your school district’s current and future needs.
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Art Edgerly & Eric Jacobson