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The Key to Successful Community Engagement Part I: School Referendums

Today’s blog post is Part I in our two-part series focused on driving successful community engagement for K-12 school projects through school referendums. Part II will look at services SitelogIQ provides to deepen relationships and trust between districts and communities, educate students, and be good stewards of the earth’s resources.

 What is community engagement?

Community engagement is a process seeking to involve local community members and achieve sustainable outcomes through equitable decision-making processes, deepening relationships and building trust between organizations and communities. In this case, community engagement is the process of encouraging community members to provide their thoughts and opinions on potential school building projects prior to a vote being held.

What is a school bond referendum?

A school bond referendum is a bond issue (also known as long-term debt) used by a public school district, typically to finance a planned building project.

Education bonds are voter-approved funds that can only be used for school facilities. Districts collect this money by taxing property owners on the assessed value of their properties. Residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural properties are all taxed.

The local bond is similar to a loan, much like a home equity line, but for the school district. Each district puts a cap on how much money should be taxed. These measures are placed on the ballot by district school boards to be approved or defeated by the voting public.

 Where are they typically used?

School districts and municipalities typically utilize bond elections the most. Bonds play an important role in both private and public sector finance. State and local governments utilize bonds to finance numerous types of capital and infrastructure projects, such as roads, schools, prisons, and libraries.

“When the decision-making authority is transferred from the school district to the community as it is when a referendum is involved, it is extremely important to have the community’s voice heard in a meaningful way as a part of the process.  Community engagement both helps educate the community at a deeper level about the issues and also allows the community to become a vested partner in the direction forward.  The result is a motivated and supportive community that has ownership in the outcome.”

– Tom Weber, Community Engagement Specialist

SitelogIQ Public Sector – Midwest Division

The Process

Many school districts face a steep learning curve to inform and encourage taxpayers to support school referendums. At SitelogIQ, our team of K-12 experts have the experience and resources to assist our district customers in educating their constituents through various communication methods. First, we help Boards develop clear and concise visions for their community that emphasize the need for the project and the intended outcomes. We believe and support organized campaigns to inform voters of the needs, issues, solutions, and project impact to both the school district and the local community.

Community engagement is essential to pass a referendum. Prior to Election Day, SitelogIQ facilitates the community engagement activities to obtain community members’ viewpoints, opinions, and feedback. With a referendum, school districts are asking their community to support a significant investment in the education of their area students. We have found that communities are much more inclined to react positively to a referendum when they have had an opportunity to provide input into what the solution actually is. The stronger the educational need is articulated throughout the bond campaign, the higher the resulting “yes” vote. A successful campaign means improving facilities that will serve students and their community well into the future.

SitelogIQ assists the district and stakeholders to develop custom communication strategies and design creative materials that visually and thoroughly convey every district’s needs through our IDEA Referendum Process:

IDENTIFY After making the final decisions on a project requiring voter approval, it is important to specify the needs while understanding the audience, channels of communication, and community “barometer.”

DEVELOP SitelogIQ collaborates with schools to establish a communication plan with
action items and goal dates. Our experienced marketing team will create materials that educate the community regarding the needs and solutions to encourage voters that the needs are warranted.

EDUCATE Using various channels of media and technology, the communication plan is
implemented through incorporating public meetings, school tours, and the distribution of tangible and digital messaging.

ASSESS The communications team will continuously monitor feedback from the
community, district website, and social media, then they will modify the plan appropriately. Communication is the primary objective of a successful campaign.

“Our team has supported numerous referendums and each project is unique in its own way. Every school has distinct needs and priorities. We strive to work creatively with each organization and to gain community support of each campaign.”

Ellen Anderson, Marketing Specialist

SitelogIQ Public Sector Midwest Division

The Goals of Community Engagement

  • Through transparency, build trust in the District and process
  • Educate community members
  • Gain community perspective
  • Consider and/or brainstorm available options
  • Understand and evaluate options and scope of work
  • Gain consensus of the group on direction forward
  • Provide feedback to the board & administration
  • Have confidence in the results

Every Community and Project Are Different

The most appropriate type of engagement will vary by the community and project. Whether the public participation by your community is simply through listening sessions or as extensive as developing and providing developed options and/or recommendations for a direction forward, SitelogIQ has the team and experience necessary to guide each group through this fully customized process to suit specific needs.

Types of community engagement SitelogIQ assists with include:

  • Advisory committees and/or taskforces
  • Public meetings
  • Surveys
  • Open houses
  • Workshops

We believe that community engagement success is all about the process. Done well, the decision-making process can provide the following advantages:

  • Creates a shared vision
  • Educates about the real issues
  • Generates legitimacy of direction and solutions
  • Develops a community sense of ownership and pride in the decision
  • Provides an understanding of the community’s issues and challenges
  • Solutions meet most everyone’s needs (not just those of the organization)
  • Harnesses community support

SitelogIQ assists in providing essential materials to properly convey the project and referendum messaging throughout the community. Here are a few examples from past projects:

FAST FACTS DISTRIBUTED ACROSS THE COMMUNITY

CUSTOM INFORMATIONAL PIECES   

LOGOS CUSTOMIZED TO EACH CAMPAIGN

For more information on SitelogIQ’s community engagement process and to be contacted by one of our experts, please click on the button below.

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