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Busted at the Ballot Box

What lessons can school district leaders learn from November’s shocking bond election results?

 

Texas voters rejected a majority of the school bond propositions on the November 2nd ballot, a stunning reversal of election trends. For over a decade, school bonds have averaged a success rate north of 80%. That fell to 44% in this election, after 82% of bond propositions passed in May and 73% passed in November 2020 during the peak of the COVID pandemic.

Districts fared somewhat better in terms of actual bond dollars, passing 61%. But that again represents a significant drop from May’s 92% or last November’s 82%. Voters clearly are not inclined to offer districts anything remotely like a blank check anymore.

For school leaders planning to put bond propositions on the ballot in 2022, these results should be a serious cause for concern. If these results are the beginning of a trend instead of just an outlier, the task of persuading voters to approve more debt just got a lot more difficult.

bond election graph

What are some of the key takeaways from the November election?

1. It’s not just natatoriums that are a tough sell anymore.

Voters have traditionally been more reluctant to pass bonds related to extracurricular activities than they are those earmarked for construction of new campuses or renovations of existing campuses. So, stadiums, natatoriums, and fine art centers have usually been a tougher sell. But in this election, voters in several districts — even fast-growth districts with ballooning student populations — voted down bond propositions that would have funded new schools. Proposals to renovate existing campuses, including replacing HVAC systems and roofs, also were far from automatic.

2. Every vote counts . . . literally.

Temple ISD’s $178 million bond that would have built a new elementary school and added security features to other campuses failed by just 2 votes. Leander ISD’s $727 million bond failed narrowly when 50.3% of voters opposed it. It would have built at least five schools and funded renovations at 13 existing campuses. Fort Worth ISD’s massive $1.2 billion bond, which will build 4 new elementary campuses and renovate all its middle schools, ended Election Day with 50.09% of the vote in its favor — a margin of less than 50 votes.

3. Building voter trust is essential.

In many districts, voters said they voted against propositions because of what they perceived as a lack of transparency during the bond planning process. Other voters were openly suspicious of the bond priorities set by district leaders. With voters nationwide increasingly polarized over diversity initiatives, tempers are short and emotions are high. The challenge for district administrators and school boards is making a nonpartisan case that additional classrooms benefit all children.

4. Data-informed planning has never been more important.

Perhaps one way to help mitigate voter mistrust is to ensure that the numbers are beyond reproach. With no margin for error, district leaders need absolute accuracy from the information they use to create their bond propositions. They need the ability to reliably compare different scenarios and identify the financial consequences to the district of prioritizing one project over another. If voters’ appetites for big, bloated bonds has diminished, then the challenge for leaders is to get as much bang for their buck as possible in lighter, leaner propositions.

Facility Insite offers school districts a powerful capital planning tool for transforming information into action…and helps maximize the odds of passing bond propositions that meet both short-and long-term needs. Now, more than ever, you can’t afford to leave anything to chance. With Facility Insite, you don’t have to. Contact us today to learn more or schedule a free demo.

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