A school district referendum is not just about a pass/fail vote. It is also about creating buy-in with the public and raising the conversation around educational issues in your community.
An effective referendum communication plan is based on telling the truth, being transparent and working to engage every member of the community. It’s an important time for school and district spokespeople to establish themselves as credible sources of information who can be trusted with executing the referendum, if passed.
When you’re heading into a referendum, it’s safe to err on the side of over-communicating. It’s especially important to focus on sharing the district’s financial or facilities needs, and how the referendum will help address those needs.
You may feel like a broken record—or that your message is falling on deaf ears. Many voters may not seek or pay attention to referendum information until just before Election Day, no matter how strong your communication strategy.
Offer plenty of details
Taxpayers want to know what their money is being used for and how it will help the district and the community. While they may be satisfied to know their vote and their tax dollars are supporting children, you still owe it to them to provide a comprehensive overview of how the funds will be used. Make detailed plans available for those who are interested.
Refrain from advocacy
If you are creating communications on behalf of the school or district, it’s important to know what you can and cannot say. While your job is to inform the public about the benefits the referendum will provide and to encourage them to vote, it is not your place to tell people how to vote. Your communications will imply that you believe voting “yes” on the referendum will be positive, but you must not explicitly tell others to vote "yes."
Use all available channels
You already have plenty of channels for communicating district news, so use them! Send letters home to parents and share updates on social media. Engage your alumni network with posts on referendum details and progress. Write to the local newspaper detailing the work the referendum would allow.
Engage your alumni
One important target audience you might not immediately think to tap are alumni. Your alumni are likely parents, staff and community members, making them stakeholders in the referendum process. Mobilize this group of people who have a strong connection to your school district by making them a priority.
Focus on trust
Communicating about a referendum is a great way to build relationships and trust with the community. Being transparent in messaging, answering questions honestly and operating with integrity will strengthen not only the referendum’s support, but also the district’s image within the community.
The future of public education is uncertain in many communities. This will likely not be the only referendum from your district. Pass or fail, you may be back in five years asking the same community members to support another referendum. Establishing a solid communication plan will make future efforts easier.