How to Pass a Referendum During Severe Economic Times
Interim Superintendent Joe Porto gave a presentation on the successful referendum bid launched by the Avoca School District in Wilmette that took place while he served as that district’s superintendent. The Avoca referendum passed (59% yes and 41% no) during the peak of the economic recession in 2009. Dr. Porto discussed the school district’s and local community group’s efforts that led to the referendum’s passage.
He discussed specific steps that should take place before, during and after a campaign. One essential step is the creation and communication of a story leading up to the referendum. Wilmette’s story focused on the district’s hard work to cut costs for four years and significantly improve student academic performance at the same time.
He said Hawthorn District 73’s story should focus on the space constraints that need to be addressed now. He is working with a subcommittee of the Board to develop four or five key messages. He said it is important to prepare a list of things that will happen should a referendum fail. Avoca planned a board meeting the day after the referendum and would have taken action on this list if the referendum had failed.
Dr. Porto spoke about the communications plan for a referendum. The plan may include the scheduling of town hall meetings as well as smaller group gatherings in peoples’ homes. The plan should include the development of visuals as well as clear information on the impact a referendum would have on a person’s home. He discussed the role of the district and the role of the community group. For instance, he said the district can’t say the community should vote yes for a referendum, but a community group can say that. The district’s role is informational. The committee’s role is to fundraise, build the yes vote turnout, and recruit volunteers.
The Avoca committee created a master plan and calendar of actions. Members made phone calls to learn approximately how many yes votes were needed to win. They created a database of yes votes. They had three talking points:
- The problem is real.
- The proposal is reasonable.
- Protect what matters most.
Committee members wrote letters to the editor and the Pioneer Press endorsed the referendum. They developed and placed lawn signs not too early and not too late. Before the election, the committee made lots of calls. On election night, the committee came together to watch results and celebrate.
Dr. Porto said that Hawthorn’s campaign is beginning to move forward. The board is considering working with a consultant on ways to best articulate the referendum impact in terms of taxes. The campaign will be rolled out in September. Getting the message out effectively is more important than getting it out early.
Review of 2018-2019 Tentative Budget
Abe Singh, Director of Finance and Business Operations, reviewed the 2018-2019 tentative budget, which had been approved on June 25. With continued refinement of this budget, the overall projected year end deficit was reduced to $886k with a slight operational surplus of $4.5k. The projected revenue is now $61.7 million and the expenses are $62.6 million.
Update on Superintendent Search
Interim Superintendent Mark Friedman provided an update on the search for a new superintendent. The position was posted on August 1. Half a dozen to 10 applicants have already applied. The position will continue to be advertised until near the end of October. Dr. Friedman reviewed the qualifications the consultants are looking for. They are looking for an individual who will understand Hawthorn’s student population. The individual must have five strong years of administrative experience, and a strong and proven background in instruction, curriculum and budget. The individual must have the ability to develop relationships and have the knowledge and understanding of working with a board of education. The other important piece is that the individual must have the ability to work with a parent population with high expectations.
The board will begin interviewing candidates at the end of November. BWP & Associates expects to interview 10 to 12 candidates. Board of Education members will be charged to bring that number down to two or three. In the meantime, BWP will work to get an understanding of what the district community would like to see in a superintendent. They will interview groups such as the PTO, teachers, board members and administrators. Community forums will be scheduled and an online survey will be launched. Staff will also have opportunities to discuss their viewpoints. The consultants will pull the data together. Overall, the goal is to name a new superintendent by the end of December or early January. In the springtime, the new superintendent will start to transition into District 73.
Approval of General Obligation Limited Tax School Bonds
The Board of Education approved a resolution providing for the issue of not to exceed $1,500,000 General Obligation Limited Tax School Bonds for the purpose of increasing the Working Cash Fund and not to exceed $5,000,000 General Obligation Limited Tax School Bonds for the purpose of refunding outstanding bonds of the District, providing for the levy of a direct annual tax to pay the principal and interest on said bonds, and authorizing the execution of a Bond Purchase Agreement with Raymond James & Associates, Inc., in connection with the proposed sale of said bonds.