Referendum Success: And the Winners Are…
Congratulations to the Black River Falls, Raymond, and Saint Croix Central School Districts! We are so pleased to have contributed to your success at the polls on November 4th. We’re extremely excited to move on to building your dreams!
What’s behind this success? For most districts, months—and even years—of planning. There are a few basic steps (and a lot of hard work) between having needs and procuring funding for a solution. But don’t worry; you’re not in it alone! These are some basic tactics that Miron has used to guide successful districts through the process.
1. Document the needs. It may be obvious to those close to the schools, but there is a large number of constituents who haven’t been in a school since they attended in 19…..? Having the district’s needs documented by a reputable school planner can give you the basis you need to start the conversation about future changes. You also want to ensure that all of your bases are covered, and no stone is left unturned when you’re analyzing the long-term needs of the district and the buildings themselves. A school planner will not only report your building needs, but consult with staff to document the types of spaces and resources needed to deliver the demanding programmatic and instructional needs of today, along with flexibility to adapt for whatever the future holds. To be the most successful, students need enough space and the right kind of space to facilitate learning.
2. Engage the community. You need to understand your community and your voters. Community-based committees, surveys, focus groups, listening sessions, are all methods to gain vital feedback. A grass roots process that gives community members ownership in a solution and an investment in the outcome is a powerful tool in building success. When you’re passionate about students and education, it’s natural to want the perfect solution. But the “right” solution is the one that solves the issues AND that your community will support: the one that will pass. Lean on the experts. Listen. Build consensus.
3. Communicate. There is no shortage of information out there; most people are inundated every moment of the day. The challenge is to get appropriate information to your voters in a format they are comfortable receiving—with the opportunity to engage in the conversation. Print, mail, email, video, website, Facebook, Twitter, open houses, live presentations, displays… utilizing a variety will ensure you’ve hit on a method that works for everyone. In general, voters will want to know:
- How the needs were assessed: Were there knowledgeable resources involved?
- How the solution was reached: Who had input? Are all the needs addressed?
- The feasibility of the solution: Is it the best solution? Were others explored?
- The tax impact: How much will it cost? Are we getting the best “bang” for our buck? How do we compare to other area districts?
- Long-range implications: Is this a solution that makes sense for the future?
Map out a communication plan: a strategy of what, how, and when information will be distributed. Get community stakeholders involved in presentations to their civic groups and write editorials. Leverage the ‘experts’ on the committees that created the solution to distribute information at events; encourage them to spread the word.
4. Respond. Provide a method for voters to ask questions and get answers. Tweak your communication strategy to incorporate what you learn throughout the communication process. Frequently-asked question or Q&A pieces in print or on your website can help you respond to negative feedback or correct inaccurate information in a positive voice.
5. Stay positive. It’s a tall order when you’re so invested in the cause and put in so much time and effort. Remember why you started all this in the first place. When the students enter that new building (or renovated wing, or STEM classroom addition) for the first time, and you see the excitement on their faces, it will all be worth it. Together, we’ve made a difference.
Whether your district is responding to trends in enrollment, instructional and curriculum changes/enhancements like STEM (or STEAM that incorporates an A for the arts), looking for flexibility, updating infrastructure, or addressing a backlog of maintenance issues that will lead to a referendum, planning and communication are keys. Stock your team with experts that lend credibility to your process, leverage their experience and expertise to guide you through, and who will support you at every step—and even add some fun to the journey.
Remember, we’re in this together!