Education Week - November 29, 2017 - S10
"Part of the
bond is people
Why do you
as a school
Kettle Moraine School District,
and unsuccessful efforts.
Voters, he concluded, are reluctant to vote for
anything not directly connected to academics.
Parking lots and facilities used for arts education
and sports tend not to do well on ballots, Zimmer said.
Even new schools are hard to sell to voters, he added.
What really resonates with voters, Zimmer said, is
maintenance of effort, or keeping schools modern and
"Even when premier high schools fall into severe
disrepair, and school officials know it's going to
cost way more money to remodel than to rebuild it,
we didn't find voters were willing to support new
schools," Zimmer said. "Voters would much rather
maintain existing facilities. Psychology plays a bit of a
role in this."
Interviews with district superintendents and their
advocates across the country show that school districts
have worked with consultants and each other to come
up with creative strategies to get bonds passed.
Deklotz, of the Kettle Moraine district, said
communication and transparency are key in getting
school bonds passed.
"We promoted the idea that the school buildings
belong to the community. And the community has to
determine how they want to maintain their schools.
Part of the difficulty in passing a bond is people
need to understand the why. Why do you as a
school district need this money while we're already
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Education Week * November 29, 2017
supportive of you?"
When the district in 2014 proposed its ballot
initiative, DeKlotz and other administrators hosted
a series of town hall meetings, led walking tours
of schools, and held sit-down meetings with their
opponents to answer any questions and address any
skepticism they might have. In one video promoted
by the district, kindergartners chanted, "Keep calm,
carry on," while the teacher anxiously tried to get
the school's internet working in her classroom.
When local voters reject school bond proposals,
states are increasingly stepping in to shore up
maintenance and construction costs.
North Carolina earlier this month issued $30
million in school construction grants. And California
voters passed a $9 billion school construction bond
in 2016 that will match local district funding.
Funding Equity an Issue
Courts are also starting to step in to force states
to create a more equitable funding mechanism for
At least nine states, either as a result of court
rulings or legislation, have made establishing an
equitable funding strategy for school facilities part
of state law.
A study of 147,000 school facilities improvement
projects between 1995 and 2004 found that highwealth ZIP code areas had three times more capital
investment than the lowest-wealth ZIP codes.
West Virginia in 1989 set up a statewide board
made up of state school board members and local
officials to determine how to help share the costs of
The state is expecting more than $50 million
in requests this year from 28 districts across the
state, many asking for maintenance costs. The
shift in student population centers has required
new construction in some places and shuttering in
"Our population keeps declining," said Frank
Blackwell, the executive director of the state's
School Building Authority. "We're just extremely
fortunate that the legislature tries to fund the
[building authority] at an average figure of $50
million a year to distribute out what needs to be
done across the state."
Other states are currently trying to figure out that
balance between what the state should shoulder and
what local officials should shoulder.
Rhode Island's state department of education
released a study earlier this year about school
facilities needs, detailing $2.2 billion in needed
repairs to public schools. A special task force is
set to come up with a way to pay for a plan. State
officials are considering proposing a statewide bond
proposal for the first time since 1984.
"We have to sound the alarm bell," said
General Treasurer Seth Magaziner during a press
conference, according to local reports. "The longer
we wait, the more expensive it will get." n