Bond Bites

An assortment of bite-sized ideas for your next campaign.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: October 27, 2020

Community Input

The “accordion effect.” Coordinating community input with the bond proposal takes time and effort. “We go out to the community, come back to the board and get some feedback. Go back to the community; come back to the board—back and forth. I call it an accordion effect.” Eventually, the district lands on a revised proposal that the community feels confident supporting. - Superintendent Dr. Gustavo Balderas, Eugene School District, OR

Feedback helps identify issues early. Toward the beginning of Richland School District Two’s 2018 bond campaign, opposition formed against the rebuild of an existing school. But as it turned out, naysayers weren’t actually against the build; they just didn’t want the school to be renamed. Bethel Hanberry Elementary’s namesake was important to the community. So to put the bond back on track, the district addressed the miscommunication—they weren’t even planning to rename the school. - Chief Communications Officer Libby Roof, Richland School District Two, SC

Actively recruit the team you need.
“I personally called everybody who ended up on the committee in a key role. I told them why we needed to be active as a group, what we were hoping to accomplish, and that we obviously valued them within our community in whatever key role they might be able to serve.” - Superintendent Shawn Haughn, Bloom-Carroll LSD, OH

Make the bond a community issue. “I don’t think it would have been successful if we hadn’t brought our community along on investigating the issues. It wasn’t out of the clear blue sky that we were asking for a $90 million bond referendum; this was a solution to a need that they understood.” - Director of Communications Merry Glenne Piccolino, Aiken County School District, SC

Invite naysayers to the table. When Superintendent Robbie Binnicker started assembling Anderson School District One’s bond planning committee, he actually invited a few community members who were against the bond. “We didn’t just invite ‘yes people.’ We clearly had some people who were certainly not always in favor of what the district did, and it was really helpful for us to hear their concerns.” - Superintendent Robbie Binnicker, Anderson School District One, SC

Give the community real decision-making power. “I did most of the legwork for the committee, but we really tried to let them make the decisions,” says
Superintendent Kerr at North Lake School District. Then, whenever the community asked about the items in the measure, he was able to truthfully say that the proposition was community-driven. “That worked very well for us.” - Superintendent David Kerr, North Lake School District, OR

Ask for input from a variety of community groups. Spokane Public School’s bond planning committee consisted of parents, realtors, teachers, business leaders, architects, consultants, and bankers. “If it’s just people who are from a certain segment, then you’re at a high risk of failing the bond. It’s got to be very representative.” - Superintendent Dr. Shelly Redinger, Spokane Public Schools, WA


Tie bond messaging into the district’s larger story. “Making a strong connection to the district’s overall vision showed us that this is part of a bigger picture. The bond isn’t totally unrelated. This was not something we decided to do six months ago; it was very strategic,purposeful. We’ve done our homework.” - Chief Communications Officer Libby Roof, Richland School District Two, SC

Highlight the bond’s benefit to the community. “For me, it was 99% explaining how the community would benefit—not just students.” - Superintendent Tim Throne, Oxford Community Schools, MI

Promote the district’s positive momentum. “Our superintendent has worked really hard to rebuild the trust and transparency that exists within the district and the community. So I think lots of citizens saw these new facilities as continuing that forward momentum to allow us to make academic gains on our report card. We saw a lot of overwhelming support for the levy, and I think that’s really, honestly why.” - Communications Coordinator Kayla Pallas, Warrensville Heights City Schools, OH

Spotlight the district’s responsible choices. “The general message was, The district has been a very good steward of the taxpayers’ resources. We’re one of the lowest-funded school districts in the state of South Carolina, yet we’re always going to be in that top 10% when it comes to academics. We get a lot of bang for our buck.” - Superintendent Robbie Binnicker, Anderson School District One, SC

Use tangible examples. The cost impact of Laingsburg’s 2019 bond was confusing, so the team broke it down: the average taxpayer would pay an extra $9.42
a month. “We equate that to one pepperoni pizza.” - Superintendent Matt Shastal, Laingsburg Community Schools, MI

Find your “why.” Over a decade ago, North Lake School District had trouble passing their referendum; it failed 2:1. So for their 2019 bond, Superintendent David Kerr focused on communicating the need. “The key thing was our why,” says Kerr. “We kept coming back to: Why are we doing this? Why do we need this?” In 2019, the bond referendum passed nearly 2:1. - Superintendent David Kerr, North Lake School District, OR

Train volunteers on a consistent message. “We printed our messaging on palm cards. So everyone had that messaging, and we also did some verbal training with leaders so they understood how to reframe things through the message.” - Director of Communications Vicki Gnezda, Worthington City Schools, OH

Avoid “fear factor” messaging. “We lead with the learning, because here’s the thing: if you lead with the fear factor, then if it doesn’t pass, you better do what you said you’d do. If that’s closing the school or canceling buses, all those things are detrimental to student learning. So I think you have to work from a positive supposition standpoint.” - Superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson, Denton ISD, TX

Communication Channels

Kick off the campaign with a bang. “We had a levy kickoff rally with activities for children, like face painting. We also handed out levy T-shirts to volunteers and people who showed up. We also did an information session just giving people the basic facts.” Then, the Bloom-Carroll team sent out small postcards with consistent, concise messaging. They posted on Facebook to communicate with a younger audience and used endorsements, influencers, and community coffees to help spread their message. - Superintendent Shawn Haughn, Bloom-Carroll LSD, OH

Each community prefers a different level of communication. While community members in Hamilton School District expect information, they are also conscious of spending. So instead of working with the architectural team to build glitzy postcards and videos, the Hamilton team opted to work in-house. “I don’t know if that works in every community; I know that it works in this community. They want good value for their dollar.” - Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke, Hamilton School District, WI

Keep it personal. “We wrote a personal, handwritten letter for each person we thought supported us in the last election, reminding them to vote. We had a lot of people tell us it was a really important piece for them.” - Superintendent John Fattal, Corunna Public Schools, MI

Offer one-on-one meetings. “I included my phone number and email on the fliers that went out, so they could contact me at any time—which happened. I then had the opportunity there, one-on-one, to answer those questions that maybe wouldn’t have been asked had I not included the phone number or email.” - Superintendent Steve Seid, Clarke Community Schools, IA

People listen to advocates over administrators. “We wanted our parents to be the face of this campaign. Sometimes the message is just received differently when it’s coming from other parents as opposed to coming from school administration or the school board. There tends to be more buy-in. It’s not the information that influences people to vote; it’s relationships that influence people’s opinions and their actions. So the school district’s job was to make sure the information was accurate. The campaign committee’s work—run by the community, not the district—was to really get out there and influence people.” - Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke, Hamilton School District, WI

Don’t forget feeder schools. Not only did Round Rock include informational materials specific to each school campus during presentations, the team also brought information for each campus’s feeder schools. Parents of elementary students learned how the bond would affect their current schools as well as schools their children would attend in the future. - Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, Round Rock ISD, TX

Students are fantastic advocates. “We had a stellar broadcast student produce two really good videos for us,” says Superintendent Matt Shastal at Laingsburg Community Schools. The district shared those videos on Grandparents Day, on social media, and on their website. On top of that, several students wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper, and others stood up at dance or theatre performances, putting in a quick word about the bond proposal. “I think you get a ten-fold return by having a student deliver that message.” - Superintendent Matt Shastal, Laingsburg Community Schools, MI

Lay the groundwork for correcting misinformation. “I had over 200 individual appointments with specific people who I knew carried a lot of weight in the community—people with a voice in terms of the media or editorial boards. I wanted to make sure that everyone understood the truth about what we were doing. Then, if they ever heard anything that was contradictory to what I told them, they could reach out to me personally instead of following an assumption.” - Superintendent Dr. Chris Himsel, Northwest Allen County Schools, IN

Prepare for opposition in the planning phase. Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke asked his team at Hamilton School District to put together a FAQ sheet. “We asked people to write down questions others in the community were asking about the bond,” says Mielke. “We had a pretty extensive list, probably 30-40 questions, and all the facts.” Parents used the FAQ when they heard questions
or misinformation in the community. “They made sure friends and neighbors had accurate information.” - Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke, Hamilton School District, WI

Start with staff. Visalia Unified initially struggled to pass a bond, failing two referendums one after the other. “What we heard back from the teachers was: You never asked us. You never told us. How can we be good promoters when we don’t know the timing or the items on the list?” says Robert Gröeber, assistant superintendent at Visalia. So when the district went back to the ballot in 2018, they touched every school site, engaging parent-teacher associations to make sure that they were running a grassroots campaign. - Assistant Superintendent of
Administrative Services Robert Gröeber, Visalia Unified School District, CA

Invite No voters onto campus. When a community member questioned the district’s overcrowding, Superintendent Steve Seid showed them the state of classrooms with a personal tour. “They could actually come in and see.” - Superintendent Steve Seid, Clarke Community Schools, IA

Nip rumors in the bud. “Negative information and misinformation can spread so quickly, so I really went after negative criticism. We had such a short window of time,” explained Director of Communications Merry Glenne Piccolino. As rumors popped up, Piccolino created an entire section of the district’s website devoted to correcting false information. After posting factual information, she sent out targeted social media ads to address the rumors, leading her audience back to the district’s website for the truth. - Director of Communications Merry Glenne Piccolino, Aiken County School District, SC

Address the opposition directly, offline. If Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke heard about anyone spreading incorrect information, he gave them a call. “I did a number of individual phone calls,” he explains. These conversations weren’t meant to change voters’ minds; the goal was to make sure people were making
informed decisions. - Superintendent Dr. Paul Mielke, Hamilton School District, WI

Treat the vote with the gusto of a sporting event. On Election Day, Bloom-Carroll’s campaign committee chartered an airplane. Yes, you read that correctly: an airplane. “We had an airplane flying around the community with the message, Support B.C. Schools. Vote Yes. We treated it like a major sporting event.” - Superintendent Shawn Haughn, Bloom-Carroll LSD, OH

Mine plus nine. “There was a group of hardworking levy supporters led by our levy chair who did ‘mine plus nine.’ They tried to make sure that each person could identify nine other Yes voters and then get them out to the polls.” - Superintendent Dr. John Kronour, Northeastern Local Schools, OH

Provide transportation to the polls. “If a voter didn’t have a vehicle, we had people on the committee who would reach out to them and say, I can give you a lift to the polls. That happened multiple times. And if voters know that somebody believes in this effort strongly enough that they would come pick them up, that has the potential of helping them decide how to vote. Without that, the bond might not have been as successful.” - Superintendent Steve Seid, Clarke Community Schools, IA

There’s value in acting quickly. “One of the things that we wanted to do was to move dirt as soon as the referendum passed,” says Superintendent Robbie Binnicker. The district received positive comments when the community saw construction teams around campus only a few days after the referendum passed. - Superintendent Robbie Binnicker, Anderson School District One, SC

Go to the community with updates. “Because we have a more senior population, we still believe there’s a huge contingent that wants you to come to them. They still want a colored mailer highlighting the projects and events that we’re doing. So we do those all the time—even when we’re not running the campaign—to give updates on the projects.” - Superintendent Dr. Shelly Redinger, Spokane Public Schools, WA

Create great experiences year-round. “Bond elections aren’t won or lost once you call them. They’re won or lost everyday with the experiences our community has in our schools: the way our teachers respond to our parents and our kids, the ways that we interact, and the choices we make fiscally. It’s really about building trust with the community all the time, then explaining the needs when the time comes. The culture and content within the school system between elections is really the most important part.” - Superintendent Dr. Jamie Wilson, Denton ISD, TX

Keep open communication channels.Administrators at Worthington City Schools meet monthly with a group of identified “key communicators,” regardless of what’s on the ballot. “They share information with us that they’re hearing, and we share information back with them. Then we ask them to make sure they go out and share that information within their groups of influence. It’s such a great group to go back and forth with, building trust.” - Superintendent Dr. Trent Bowers, Worthington City Schools, OH


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