Passing a referendum is among the most high-stakes initiatives faced by a school district. With the majority of revenue in most U.S. school districts coming from local property taxes, getting taxpayer approval for a revenue boost is often the only way to make major building improvements that go outside of the scope of a district’s annual operating budget.
Getting to that 51% “yes” vote isn’t easy. Historically, less than ⅔ of school referendums get the green light from voters (data from the State of Illinois). Much of the pressure surrounding a pass or fail vote falls on the shoulders of the school communications/PR professionals in effectively communicating the issues and building taxpayer trust.
As referendum expert Paul Hanley said at School PR Day 2022, “If you do it right, bond measures can be won before the ballot question is adopted.”
One important path forward in “doing it right” is having a bond information hub on your school’s website; a place where the referendum can be clearly obtained and understood 24/7 by parents and community members.
When creating an information hub and using your school’s website to help pass a referendum, be sure to include the following resources:
1. Core messaging
2. Proposal options and supporting information
3. Photos, videos and infographics
4. Communications archives
The core message of your bond campaign is more than the dollar amount you’d like taxpayers to approve. You’ll want to answer the following questions suggested by Paul Hanley in his School PR Day presentation:
- What is the problem?
- What is the solution?
- What is the cost?
- Why is it urgent?
- What’s the value-added?
Beaverton School District recently passed a $723 million bond in May of 2022. They used their Finalsite website to develop a bond microsite, housing all communications related to the issue.
Beaverton took its core messaging to the next level by creating a unique animated video dedicated to explaining the bond, why it’s on the ballot, and what it means to the community.
They also translated the video into Spanish to be inclusive of taxpayers whose primary language is not English.
The video outlines key components of the proposal including:
- Cost to taxpayers
- Why improvements are needed
- Community feedback results
- Categorization of projects
The core message of your bond campaign is the most essential component of your communications hub. Make sure it stands out!
Proposal options and supporting information
Beyond your core messaging of the what, why, and how of your bond campaign, taxpayers will want to know what the actual proposals consist of in detail.
Remember, most people viewing your content are not experts in finance, construction, or education. Making this content as digestible as possible for people of all knowledge levels is critical to a successful campaign.
Tulsa Public Schools passed a $414 million bond in 2021, using the district’s Finalsite website as a home for all information related to the effort. A large portion of the site is dedicated to the proposal options, including those nitty-gritty details that are important to gaining taxpayers’ trust.
Tulsa broke the content down by using callout buttons for the full bond package as well as bond projects by school.
Full of visual appeal, the bond projects by school are powered by Finalsite Posts, an online publishing tool for news, blogs, news, teacher pages, and more. The hover effect creates visual interest in each neighborhood school, calling viewers to click on each tab to learn more.
Tulsa outlined what the bond will do for each building, including colors and images to draw interest and increase readability.
Using these posts, they keep readers on the main page instead of forcing them to a new tab or window, increasing the likelihood that a viewer will continue to explore and engage with the content. Knowledge is power – and knowledge builds trust for a taxpayer “yes” vote.
You’ll want to consider creating flyers as handouts for your in-person engagement events, but don’t forget these elements should also have a home online. Tulsa used Finalsite’s Resource Module to store their digital flyers and also have them displayed beautifully using Finalsite Posts. Bonus! They also translated their materials into Spanish with links to the content below each flyer.
While it’s true that people still read written materials (especially if it concerns their tax dollars), you’ll have greater success getting your message out there if you incorporate photography, video, and infographics into your overall communications strategy. Did you know infographics improve reading comprehension by 50% and visuals increase learning and information retention by 78%?
Lee’s Summit R-7 School District also created a bond hub on its Finalsite website for its recent successful bond campaign. Each project within the bond was portrayed with photography and video to bring the need and vision to life.
Tulsa Public Schools created an infographic on their Finalsite website, helping constituents make more sense of the overall bond ask and what it means for the community.
Beaverton School District developed an amazing set of videos explaining each element of their project. The videos were embedded into their Finalsite website for easy viewing.
A successful school bond campaign will consist of email newsletters, webinars, town hall meetings, and more. Make sure this content is easily accessible to people on your communications hub, and not just in their (very crowded) inbox where it might be missed.
Rankin County School District used Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, and its accordion feature to share bond updates over time. This easy-to-navigate page makes it simple to read updates on how the construction has evolved over time — especially while browsing on a mobile device.
Bloomfield Hills Schools also used the accordion feature to organize updates by date onto its bond microsite.
Clear Creek Independent School District took a different and more visual approach to organize its news archives and kept the content in a sidebar on the page.
What to do once the bond passes
Communication with your taxpayers doesn’t end when the measure passes. Once election day ends, repurpose your bond hub to share updates on construction progress and updates until the full project is complete.
The keys to passing a school bond campaign lie in clear communications and building trust. Developing an outstanding bond hub or microsite with your core messaging, proposal options, imagery and communications archives is a wise community engagement tactic and can help you earn a “yes” vote from taxpayers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Morgan Delack is Finalsite's VP of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.