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In the May 2022 Texas uniform election, 124 school districts across the state asked voters to approve bond elections for various capital projects. Of the 124 districts that called for bond elections, there were a total of 205 ballot propositions. Despite the varying needs presented by school districts, a record low number of ballot propositions were approved by voters in this election. Statewide, 50.7% of the bond ballot propositions were approved in May, compared to the 65.2% average approval of bond ballot propositions since 2017.

There were many factors – some completely out of a school district’s control – that likely played a role in the relatively low success rates of school district bond elections in May 2022 – record inflation, high gas prices, skyrocketing property appraisals in many Texas communities, the negative national discourse on public education-related topics like critical race theory, library books, and social and emotional learning, just to name a few. One, or all of these topics were likely hot-button topics in every school district’s bond election.

Fortunately, in the school district where I have the privilege of serving as superintendent, voters in our community approved all three of the bond propositions that our board voted to place on the ballot. We were just one of seven districts across the state to get all three of its bond ballot propositions approved.

Every school district’s needs, community and voters are different. However, I wanted to share some reflections on the steps we took in our bond process that I believe led to success.

  1. Establish clearly articulated district goals: Well before even discussing the need for a bond, our district engaged in a community-involved process to create a new strategic plan. The plan was driven by five district goals adopted by our Board of Trustees, and ultimately led to the creation of several measurable district goals and targets through key performance indicators and outlined district initiatives and strategies. We involved staff members, parents, students and community members in the development of this plan to gain community “buy-in” of our short and long-term direction as a school district. There were some areas identified as priorities for our community ultimately included in the strategic plan that would require at least consideration of a bond to meet the program needs. Career and Technical Education, for example, was an academic area on which our community wanted the district to place a larger emphasis.
  • Meet regularly with community groups: Before going out and asking voters in your community to support a bond, you should have already established strong relationships with local leaders in business, faith-based and civic organizations. Whether it is the local chamber, a group of church leaders, REALTORs, or political organizations and clubs, try to either schedule meetings or get on their meeting agendas to provide updates on what’s happening in your school district. These local leaders are in many ways your best advocates and can effectively serve as “ambassadors” for the district in the community. Getting their input into, and support for what’s happening in your school district will have any bond efforts you begin off to a good start.
  •  Gather data and be transparent with the information: In 2020, we engaged with highly-reputable third parties to conduct an assessment of our existing facilities and study our demographics and make growth projections. Both reports were presented to our Board of Trustees during public meetings and placed in a visible area of our district website titled “transparency”. Don’t shy away from sharing and communicating “brutal facts” that lead to difficult community conversations, like infrastructure needs identified in a facilities assessment and the potential need to rezone due to school overcrowding. Starting these conversations early will “condition” the environment to begin socializing any need for a bond.
  •  Prioritize Community Involvement: Based on the direction you are heading under your district goals and strategic plan and after reviewing data, if you have determined a bond needs to be considered, under the direction of your Board, form a task force committee representative of your entire community to study the needs and make a recommendation on a bond proposal. Don’t just invite the folks you know will say, “Bond? You had me at hello.” Invite a diverse group of backgrounds and opinions, and bring them all to the table. Establishing the right dynamic will not push your thinking as a district as it relates to what should be included in the bond, but also, if a bond is ultimately recommended, will convey to your community that differing opinions were brought forward during these discussions.
  •  Put your bond task force to work: Establish a rigorous schedule of meetings and put all of the information on the table for your task force to explore. Offer tours of district facilities and provide them with all of the information they need to make informed decisions. In our work, our task force met six times, each at a different location. Each meeting consisted of a different format and covered different topics presented by school district leaders over curriculum, CTE, operations, facilities, athletics and more.
  • Develop a District Communications Strategy: Once your task force has recommended a bond, and an election is called by your board, proactively educate your community on what’s included in the bond. Issue a news release informing your community that a bond election has been called, and include in the release the projects included. Remember to follow Texas election law as it relates to advocacy. You can educate, not advocate. Between February 2022 and May 2022, our district carried out a comprehensive bond education communication campaign that included the following:
    • A new web page with all bond-related information, including information from task force meetings, videos, and frequently asked questions.
    • A social media campaign that included informational graphics and a weekly video series.
    • An effort to encourage students, parents and staff to register to vote.
    • Strategically timed and targeted district email and text messages with information on the bond, how to register to vote, and when are where to vote.
    • Bond literature, posters and other informational pieces placed at every campus and targeted mailers to voters,
    • Weekly updates provided to principals to include in campus newsletters.
    • Targeted outreach to local media outlets and advertising in the local newspaper
    • Public town hall meetings

Approximately 150 meetings, including every campus and department and with various community and district organizations, including parent/teacher organizations, athletic and fine arts booster clubs, church and civic organizations, realtor groups, homeowner associations, chambers of commerce, and political organizations.

While every school district’s community and needs are different, I believe our success was a result of the intentional steps we took before and during the process of calling for and engaging in a bond election.