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Referendum Road Map: Establish a Sense of Urgency

Alex Mielke

How do you get your voters to say “yes” to a school tax increase? Over the past few decades, we have been involved in many successful school referenda and have perfected our recipe for referendum success. This post kicks off a multi-part blog series sharing what we have learned regarding the art and science of conducting a successful referendum campaign.

Referenda represents sometimes small, but often large, changes for Districts and communities. Adapting to change can be difficult for individuals, and even more so for large groups of people with varied interests and motivations. However, there are specific steps you can take to ensure your Roadmap to Yes. We have adapted John Kotter’s eight steps to change to provide a framework for the referendum process, because a referendum is ultimately all about change and resistance to change. To begin this series, we will cover the first step in Kotter’s eight-step process to an approved referendum.

Establish A Sense of Urgency
To begin the path to yes, establishing a sense urgency with the community is key. How do you help voters, parents, students and staff clearly see the need and the importance of acting immediately?

Although Districts may have success in establishing the need for a referendum, many Districts are unable to create enough urgency to prompt action. Without motivation, voters are not moved to take positive action and the effort fails.

To create a sense of urgency, you must have a clear and concise understanding of your specific facility-related challenges. This can be accomplished using a number of different tools.

Existing Facility Condition Report

Review your existing facilities and report on their condition, projected maintenance, and operational costs. The information will then be used to determine the feasibility of renovation or build new options.

LEED® – Green Building & Sustainability Plan

Energy-efficient building options are valuable components of any building plan and are critically important to many voters. Our experts will guide your project to move seamlessly through any or all of the following: site selection, architecture, interior design, engineering, and construction. At every stage, our team incorporates sustainable building strategies which we developed through years of experience. We will look at project components such as daylighting options, minimizing impact to surrounding natural areas and energy-efficient systems for heating, cooling and air circulation.

Budgetary Estimates for Viable Options

You have to be ready to provide voters multiple options that represent effective solutions. Our preconstruction team will look at each of the options that you outline and develop rock-solid budget numbers that reflect real construction costs backed up by years of PK-12 historical costing.

Preliminary Construction Schedule

Budgets do not have much relevance unless they are accompanied by a simple to understand schedule that shows preconstruction and construction milestones. Voters need to understand when the project will break ground and when the students and staff will be able to occupy their facility again.

Renovate, Addition & Build New Analysis

Your voters will expect that you have evaluated all potential solutions and have an understanding of the pros and cons associated with each option. In many cases, after thorough analysis, the solution that at first appeared obvious, may not be the best one for your specific needs.

Evaluation of Proposed Building Site

Each potential building location, whether the site of an existing facility or a wide-open greenfield site, should be evaluated for potential benefits and hazards. Factors such as soil conditions, proximity to current facilities, transportation access routes and neighborhood concerns should all be addressed and evaluated in preparation for communicating the plan to the voters.

Phasing Plan for Construction

Zero disruptions to your daily operations is critical, and especially important when considering the potential phasing of your project to accommodate school activities. Many construction activities can be accomplished over winter, spring and summer breaks. However, major construction will generally need to take place while school is in session. Our team will evaluate your current operations and develop a plan that will keep your students safe and allow your staff to focus on educating students.

Financial Considerations

It will be very important for the District to evaluate and develop not only the known construction costs, but also all of the associated costs of the project that will be presented to the voters. We have a historical database of school construction costs, as well as tools to determine the inflations of costs as specific construction schedules are established. At any time during the pre-referendum phase of your project, we can provide a guaranteed maximum price for the project that can be presented to your voters with confidence.

The Value of a Survey of Your Residents

A survey of your residents during the pre-referendum phase will assess the perceptions of your residents and begin to create support for the solutions presented in your referendum.

Ideally, you will survey every resident of the District. The end result of a survey will be valuable data from voters that are tuned in to the challenges and needs of the district and the solutions that are possible. Because of years of analysis and revision of the survey process, you can be confident that the information you will receive will be highly predictive and more accurate than random sample studies.

The benefit of these tools and our process is that each educates voters on the needs of the District. Each voter is unique and focuses on a different element so it is important to cover them all. Voters are more likely to vote for a solution if they have a hand in creating it and are informed and heard along the way.

Tune in next month for step two of our multi-part blog series on answering the right questions to keep the momentum going and create a sense of urgency in your community.

Can’t wait for the rest of the blog series? Reach out to our Referendum Expert, Alex Mielke at for the complete Roadmap to Yes.

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July 17, 2024