Voter Buy-In for Bond Issues

By Del Stover

The economy is in the doldrums, unemployment is high, and people are worried if they’ll still have a job tomorrow. So it should come as no surprise that voters are wary when school officials ask them to approve a bond issue and the taxes to fund it.

This summer, for example, California’s Jurupa Unified School District asked for a $125 million bond -- and saw its request go down in defeat. At least eight other districts in the state also saw their bond measures fail.

But to the surprise of many, these defeats were in the minority. An impressive three out of four bond proposals in the Golden State -- 25 out of 34 -- have won approval so far in 2012. The state economy may be weak, and California may be the birthplace of Proposition 13 and the modern anti-tax movement, but state voters are showing surprising support for school bond issues.

That support, however is provisional, say school finance experts. Officials cannot overreach in the funding they request, and they have to make a powerful argument for the taxpayer’s sacrifice. In today’s tough economic times, voters need not only to be wooed but won over -- and that’s no easy task.

“Voters have been surprisingly supportive of bonds,” says Judy Marks, director of the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. “But school officials also are making the case for why they have to do it ... and school districts have to go out and sell their bond issues.”

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