Passing Bond Referendums by Terry Wood, AIA, LEED AP

When trying to pass a bond referendum, keep your message to the voters simple. It usually works best to address only three major issues. These issues need to be self-evident to the majority of voters and it must be compelling in order for it to sell.

Never take votes for granted and work tirelessly to the last minute to pass your referendum. Be positive, but don’t over sell where you might be in the campaign. The underlying message should be what we expect the outcome to be and that we need everyone who supports the referendum to vote. Many times, you hear how certain community members didn’t vote because they thought the referendum would pass without their vote. Your goal should be to convince voters who don’t have school-age children to support school spending. If you have high school students that are of voting age and supportive of our cause, make sure they are registered to vote.

Timing is important: When is the best time of the year to hold your bond referendum? Many think it’s during the holiday season in December when community members are in a giving mood. However, December has historically not been a good month to pass a referendum, and January, March and September are not much better. In recent years, it seems that April/May is the best time for a bond referendum. Coincidently, this is around the same time Uncle Sam is mailing back tax returns. Be sure to check timing with your financial advisor, since they are likely to have been through several bond initiatives and can advise you on their experiences.

In my years of experience working with school districts on pre-bond referendums, I have learned that some bond issues are much more difficult to pass than others, due to the types of projects that are included in the bond issue. In a tough time, voters have tended to support remodels and additions over new schools. Athletic facilities are the least successful. These include track and field renovations, artificial turf, gyms, swimming pools and playgrounds. Voters have been approving heating upgrades or boiler repairs at a higher rate, but this is not so for air conditioning. Voters have also responded favorably when it comes to leaky roofs by saying “yes” to projects that have included roof repairs. Other more successful upgrades have included security issues such as cameras, alarms and fire suppression systems.

Bottom line: keep the flow of communication going, and always look for ways to connect with community members on a personal level. A clear and simple pitch will go a long way.