Episode 93

Passing a $230 million bond issue: How one district made it happen

February 5, 2018 | Success Stories
Guest:Paul Imhoff

Host Joel Gagne is joined by Paul Imhoff, the superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools in Ohio, which recently passed a $230 million bond issue.

Paul talks about the proactive steps taken to effectively communicate their needs, and how the district ended up landing the resources required to serve students. The sizable request works out to about $100 a month for the average taxpayer and included $140 million for a new high school, the largest such project in the history of the state.

Joel notes most successful campaigns are at least a year long, and often two. Paul and Joel credit Upper Arlington’s three-year effort as being part of the reason the district got so much support.

Paul says the effort started with the district’s most recent three-year strategic plan, which focused on efficiency. Upper Arlington Schools pulled together a team of business leaders to make recommendations that would carry weight.

“And one of those recommendations to us, now three years ago, was to put together a facilities master-planning process as soon as possible,” Paul says.

The district’s buildings are on average over 60 years old, meaning the cost for upkeep in some cases is less practical. But the community overwhelmingly “thought the facilities were great,” according to initial polling. Paul says getting a professional survey administered by an opinion research company was critical in understanding how to properly engage the community.

“I have every belief that if we put this on the ballot then that we would have lost and we would have lost in a major fashion,” he says.

That meant communication was key over the three-year period. Paul says the district wanted ownership, not buy-in.

Paul talks about how intensive the process was, as he personally attended 175 in-home meetings. And the district committed to a “painful level” of transparency, recording all comments at public meetings and posting them online.

“I believe community engagement has never been more difficult than it is now,” he says. “And community engagement is not offering a series of meetings and whoever shows up you say you’ve got their voice and you move on. Community engagement is just a grind.”

Joel notes Upper Arlington is an affluent community and enjoys great participation, but as a small district does not have the resources some other districts have. Paul credits his team’s efforts for making it work during the campaign.

In making a final push before the big day, promoting early voting was important.

“We truly believed that for us the key was to get every possible person to come out and vote,” Paul says. “So for us, our plan was really one of mobilization. People already knew if they were for it or against it, we just wanted to make sure every possible person voted. The only way to be 100 percent sure you get out was to get out early.”

Also important, he says, is that despite all the efforts around facilities, the district never lost sight of its number one job: educating students.

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