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Jason Schoenleber
Jason Schoenleber

5Sight, Communication, Transparency, Referendum

3 Steps in Developing Your Referendum Strategy

Posted on Aug 6, 2018 2:57:37 PM

It’s a new school year, and for many districts that means it is referendum season.  While the district may fully understand the need for a referendum, the challenge often is justifying it to the local taxpayers, who may not understand the resource needs and constraints of the district. To be successful, districts must develop a three-step strategic framework by which they can communicate the district needs, the reasons for those needs and the data that supports those arguments. The success or failure of passing a referendum can many times be traced back to the transparency process and how well informed the public was.

Establishing the Why

Begin the development of your strategic framework by connecting why you are doing something to the what and how you plan on doing it.  Establishing this relationship is key to creating value and understanding of your initiative. Support your “why” by outlining the important factors that led to your decision. As an example, if a district needs to increase its operating rate, some factors that lead to that conclusion may include:

  • Need to upgrade facilities
  • Technology upgrades such as a new 1-to-1 program
  • Lack of state funding
  • Tax rates have not risen in several years due to tax caps and Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) has remained flat, while operational costs continue to increase

These factors help create the arguments that you need to allow stakeholders to understand your decision-making process. This is the point in your strategic framework where you begin to develop and create analytics and other evidence that you will present to advocate your position.  It is important to stay focused on your arguments and present data that supports and defends them.  Avoid the tendency to include every accessible data point in your presentation. This will only serve to distract your audience from the issue at hand, and likely lead to a discussion off topic.  A great rule of thumb to follow: If the data does not support your arguments, or is irrelevant to the discussion, do not include it.  Every presentation slide and data point should serve to communicate why the referendum is necessary for the district to achieve its goals and continue operations.

Boerne ISD Receives 73% Approval on $175M Bond Referendum - Read how

Establishing the What

This is the step of your strategic framework that you will dive deep into the data to identify what data points are concrete and will support the arguments you established. An easy way to do this is by asking yourself, “what data points support these claims and is the data available for me to capture?". The second question is critical because it helps identify if an argument will have the needed context and support, and ultimately help determine if it is strong enough to use in communications. If the only data available is anecdotal, you should prepare for stakeholders to challenge it and unless it is considered a highly valuable point, potentially remove it from your communications.  To see what this looks like in action, let’s look at an argument like operational costs outpacing CPI, and due to tax caps, are causing a budget deficit.  When outlining the supporting data points, start to identify higher-level information first, then drill down into the meta-data.

Example data points:

  • Historical Data Trends
  • Comparison Metrics, Peer Revenues and Expenses
  • Projected Finances
  • Enrollment Trends
  • Historical Tax Rates and EAV
  • State Funding Trends and projections

3 rules for constructing & communicating your financial “story” to stakeholders

Establishing the How

The agenda you established in the strategic framework needs to be put into place with a well-developed communication plan. Organize the gathered information in a short and simple format that tells the whole story, connecting the reason for the referendum to specific supporting evidence. Leverage visual analytics to enhance understanding. Never assume your audience will draw the same conclusions you are without being led there. Note: It may be valuable to include the perspective of what the impact will be in the near and long term if the referendum is not passed.

Developing a well thought out communication strategy that is built around solid, data-based evidence and that can be delivered with passion and conviction through a visual analytics story will give your district the best chance of achieving your referendum objectives.


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Jason Schoenleber is the 5Lab Product Manager for Forecast5 Analytics. He is responsible for the product management, development, and outreach of Forecast5’ s student achievement and performance software – 5Lab. He also assists with the management of 5Lab client relationships. Prior to working at Forecast5, Jason worked for 3 years as a Solutions Consultant for Enfos Inc., advising corporate remediation directors on managing their financial debt obligation data through a SaaS platform and template modeling.  He received his Bachelors in Marketing from the University of South Dakota, and is currently pursuing his Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

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