First, begin by communicating your district’s most pressing needs in words Grandma, Grandpa, and Joe Sixpack easily understand. This is a good rule of thumb that’ll carry through your entire project.
Second, early in the referendum planning process, define your problem. What are your most pressing needs? Don’t have too many. Keep it simple.
Are your needs related to…
Finances? – You need more money but why? What have you tried to do to balance your budget? How will the money be used?
Increasing enrollments? – Need more space? What are the long-term projections?
Declining enrollments? – Have too much space? Need to right-size and close a school?
Modernizing learning environments? – Why? A desire to better prepare your students for jobs and careers in your region? Or so that 25-year-old former students have a job and aren’t living in their parents’ basement?
Updating/replacing major building systems? – How is this different than regular building maintenance that you should be doing?
It may be tempting to write a dissertation attempting to explain all your problems. But remember that over half of the adult US population reads at the sixth-grade level or below. The more complex your explanation and plan, the more difficult it will be to explain. (See point 1.)
Third, our data shows that people are willing to support what they understand. People understand a leaking roof; they do not understand negative tertiary aid. People understand making a school safer; they do not understand new curricular initiatives.
Fourth, people also attempt to “fit” a school’s situation into their situation. When money is tight at home, most people try to fix up what they have rather than buying new. In fact, our data shows testing “renovations” generally receives at least 10% more support than “building new,” even when “building new” would be less expensive in the long run.
Finally, using the right words and descriptions are important. In one community we recently surveyed, "building a gymnasium" drew 14% more support than building a "four-station gymnasium" … but it was the same project! (Relatedly, drop words when and where you can! Shorter is almost always better.)
At the end of the day, people will help solve a problem if they understand the problem.
The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Bill Foster, President & Founder.