Education Week - November 29, 2017 - S9
Closing the Deal
Persuading communities to take on the hefty borrowing needed to build and
maintain schools can be a heavy lift. Here are some elements researchers
and local officials and research say are crucial in securing the votes for bond
measures that account for 80 percent of school facilities financing nationwide.
Mounting a Campaign
Getting school construction bonds passed can be a
politically vexing task for local officials.
Ron Zimmer, a professor at the University of
Kentucky, studied a series of school construction
campaigns in Michigan and what went into successful
Pictures Can Trump Words
Patricia Deklotz, the superintendent
of the Kettle Moraine school district
in Wisconsin, said images and videos
of the district's needs tended to
resonate more with voters in a recent
Mark Ross, the superintendent of
Battle Grounds school district in
Washington state, said voters are
skeptical of bureaucrats asking for
more money. He suggests being
clear-cut and open with voters about
the decisionmaking process and the
districts' spending habits.
Befriend Your Enemies
Deklotz, of Kettle Moraine, said she
would often call up or meet over coffee
with those lobbying to defeat her bond
proposal. Hearing directly from officials
gave opponents an opportunity to have
all their concerns addressed.
Focus on Need Rather
Ross, from Battle Grounds, said the
school district originally thought
voters wanted to hear how that the
new construction plan involved as
many stakeholders as possible. That
approach, he said, was misguided.
Community members, he has learned,
are more interested in the detail of
what's needed than in the process of
Jim Barcus for Education Week
and school board members have postponed millions of
dollars worth of routine maintenance costs for years at
The wear and tear on America's schools has become
The 2016 "State of Our Schools" report estimated that
there's an $8 billion annual gap between what school
officials spend on maintenance and operations versus
what they should spend. Similarly, there's a need for
$28 billion in capital work at existing schools and
$10 billion for new facilities, the report estimated.
The average age of school buildings today is 44 years
The dramatic shift in population centers in the nation,
the result of changes in the farming and manufacturing
industries, has further exacerbated these problems.
While the K-12 student enrollment grew by
4.8 million students between 1994 and 2013, that growth
was concentrated in just eight states, while in
11 states student enrollment declined significantly.
Both instances require school construction.
Utah's student enrollment in recent years has
skyrocketed, forcing districts to crowd students into
portable buildings and break caps on class sizes, and
sparking a teacher shortage.
Six of the state's school districts went to voters
earlier this month seeking more than $800 million in
construction bonds to, among other things, build new
schools. Only four of those measures passed.
For districts losing students, budget cuts inevitably
follow, spiking maintenance costs and calls from
administrators to close some schools and upgrade others.
West Virginia last year shuttered a middle school in
Fayette County after bricks came tumbling out of its
facade. The school's closing followed years of infighting
within the county over which school to shut down after
thousands of students left the district after the local coal
mines closed. But local residents couldn't decide which
schools would get upgraded and which would close.
Districts need to convey in clear and
concise language what the district's
needs are, why the district needs
the requested amount, and how the
upgrades or new schools will benefit
students and voters.
campaign than long explanations of
why the district needed a new building
or money for renovations. In one video
advertisement, kindergartners waited
several minutes until the school's Wifi
School buildings come with a hefty price tag,
especially in an era when innovative features
are baked in. Summit Technology Academy,
co-located on a satellite campus
of the University of Central Missouri,
cost $30 million and was designed
with career training in mind.
Make the Connection to
Career-tech centers and added
classroom space are more appealing
to voters than parking lots or sports
facilities, says Ron Zimmer, a researcher
at University of Kentucky who has
studied school construction bonds.
SOURCE: Education Week