Winning Back Alumni Parents
By Don E. Lifto and J. Bradford Senden
Every year, commencement exercises signal the end of an era for some high school parents, either because their graduate is an only child or the youngest child in the family. In the context of school elections, the perceptions of this group of parents, which we call “alumni parents,” contrast sharply not only from current parents, but also from adults who have never had children in public schools.
Alumni parents make up a substantial part of any school community and they wield much power, because they tend to be frequent voters. But if you think that this group of parents can be counted on to support school bond referendums and tax elections, think again. Alumni parents, it turns out, are often the least supportive of school tax increases.
Consequently, school leaders, who may believe that this group is a sympathetic audience, should take a closer look at this demographic if they want to win school tax elections or bond referendums.
We discovered these differing attitudes several years ago when we conducted a series of focus groups for a school district that was seeking voter approval of a major tax increase. During these sessions, it became clear that alumni parents clearly were a separate voting bloc from current parents and from those who were childless or who never had children in the public schools.
We wanted to find out as much about them as possible so we could advise school leaders on how to win their votes for bond referendums. First, we sought to find out who they are demographically and, second, we wanted to know why they generally didn’t support school bond referendums and tax elections.
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