Nobody knows exactly how school budgets are going to shake out in the aftermath of the current global pandemic. But, we do know school funding is going to become more important than ever. This makes it critical that any millage or sinking fund you put on the ballot gets a passing vote.
There are several ways a school district can add to its budget, each a little bit different. Traditional school millages, which raise funds to cover operating expenses. Sinking funds, which can only be used for purchases and improvements to buildings or land property. These are short term – usually three to ten years. Then there are bonds, which can be used for much the same purposes as sinking funds, adding in a few more items, like purchasing buses and technology, but are issued for longer-term funding – usually 25 – 30 years. Regional Enhancement millages come from the ISDs who then distributes the funds to their districts
There are also millages for specific programs. There are CTE millages to provide funding for career and technical education and Special Education millages to provide funding for special education programs within the district.
Having helped numerous school districts pass their ballot initiatives, we’ve found there are several keys to success they all have had in common. Here are seven of them you should consider when initiating your own ballot proposal.
1. Do Your Research
It’s hard to draw a map to success if you don’t know where your starting point is. The best research is to do a full qualitative research on your district’s voter base. This will give you an idea of how many would vote yes, how many would vote no and how many are undecided. It also will give you an idea of how many are currently registered voters.
You can also find out attitudes towards your district and what kind of job the community feels you’re doing. And you can find out if there are any issues or concerns you need to deal with that could derail your campaign.
2. Create a Research-Based Strategy
Once you have your research results, it becomes easier to form a strategy. For instance, if the research shows that you have a strong contingent of yes voters who feel positive about the job your district is doing, the strategy should focus on making sure they are registered and that they get out to vote. You can target the yes voters with messaging designed to make sure they participate in the election.
On the other hand, if there is a large undecided block of voters, your strategy becomes more about highlighting both the positives of your district and the needs the fund will enable you to take care of. It is about providing information to convince them to move from undecided to a yes vote. Finally, if there are a lot of no voters, part of the strategy will need to be about addressing the issues or concerns that are fueling the negativity.
Of course, your strategy will need to be more nuanced than these simple illustrations, but this gives you an idea of how what you learn from research can inform the direction your strategies take.
3. Take Your Show on the Road
Once you have a strategy and have determined the right messaging for the right audiences, develop a roadshow presentation, and listening tour. Find key administrators, staff members, board members, labor union leadership, local education associations, and intermediate school district supporters who are dynamic, passionate speakers. Then, start booking presentations with as many local groups as you can to get your message out there.
This would include doing presentations at board meetings, PTA groups, chamber of commerce groups, mayors and city councils, any civic clubs or organizations, etc. Local realtors are a good group to target, as they have a vested interest in having a good school system to sell new home buyers with.
Basically, you should make your presentations to any group, large or small, within your district that can engage the community. Make your case to them. Tell them what you’re doing, why there’s a need, where the money will be spent, and how it benefits the community.
4. Activating Your Advocates and Their Databases
You have within your database, ways to communicate with various communities within your school system and community. You have one for the actual students past and present, one for families of students and one for your employees. Create strategies and messaging for each group. With the data you have, you can create email campaigns, direct mail campaigns and digital and social media campaigns.
Your families have a vested interest in your school succeeding. They are most likely to vote yes, so make sure you connect with them to make sure they get out and vote and to urge their friends and neighbors to vote.
Messaging to students can be about reminding your parents to take part in this important vote. And all students who turn 18 before the election, this is your chance to participate and help your school – don’t forget to register to vote. Finally, messaging to recent graduates who have gone off to college can be about reminding them to not forget to absentee vote.
Employees may or may not live in your district, but they can be strong influencers. Give them the tools and information to help spread the word and get out the vote.
But you need to be aware of who can say what to these audiences. In most cases, if your messaging is coming from the district or its representatives, you can only put together an informational campaign that informs people what the issues are, what the vote is about, why there is a need and what the money is needed for. You can encourage people to vote, but you cannot ask them to vote yes or no.
An independent advocacy group, usually made up of parents and concerned citizens, can put together a Yes Vote Campaign, urging people to vote yes. But this group needs to remain independent from the district and its officials. For an example of this, you can look at our Macomb for Kids case study.
5. Create a Digital Presence
You want to have a place on your website where everyone can find all the information they need about your upcoming ballot issue. The best way to do that is to create a landing page or microsite dedicated to the ballot proposal. This is where you can put all the information and materials pertaining to the millage or sinking fund. It is where you can drive people to from all your campaign elements to learn more. You can put an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) there, videos, infographics, a message from the Superintendent and more in this space.
Make sure it’s easy to find. Put a highly visible button or banner on your website’s home page so people can click right through to it. Also put the web address for the page or microsite on everything from posters to emails. If you have the budget, run digital and social media ads that also drive traffic to your page or microsite.
If you are an advocacy group running a vote yes campaign, consider branding your campaign, as we did with Macomb for Kids. This enhances your digital presence and creates a unique name to create your web page or microsite around.
6. Use the Space You Have
Your schools and district offices provide great opportunities to get your message out. Create posters to place in key areas of all your buildings. Create handout sheets you place at receptions desks, entries to PTA meetings and school functions, in classrooms during new school orientations or parent/teacher conferences. Put reminders to vote on your electronic signs. Give your teachers and staff pocket cards with key information so they have it at their fingertips anytime someone asks about the upcoming election. These are just a few of the ways you can use the space you have to your advantage.
7. Key Dates Reminders
Be aware of the key dates in your election cycle and make sure you share them with your community. These key dates include the last day to register to vote, first day to absentee vote, last chance to absentee vote by mail and, of course, the actual election day. Create information blasts in your communications, including emails and social media, to remind people of these important dates.
These are just a few of the keys to making sure you get your ballot initiatives passed. If you want more in-depth information or someone to help you with your millage or sinking fund, just contact us. We will be happy to help.