If any school districts are looking for some tips on how to plan and pass a bond referendum, HISD Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla has some advice: Make the information engaging.
“We can’t tell people how to vote,” Bobadilla said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun communicating the information to voters so they can make informed choices.”
Nearly 65 people turned out Friday at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Southern Region Conference in Austin to hear about HISD’s recent experience in passing a $1.89 billion bond — the biggest in Texas history.
Voters approved the plan to build or renovate 40 schools by an overwhelming 2-1 majority. During Friday’s session, titled “They Said it Couldn’t Be Done! Planning and Passing a $1.89 Billion Bond Referendum”, Bobadilla credited the victory to a well-designed communication plan that used tools such as social media and videos to get the word out.
Bobadilla was joined at the event at the Renaissance Hotel by HISD General Manager of Facilities Planning Sue Robertson and Construction & Facilities Services Officer Robert Sands.
“We wanted to include the entire community in the planning process, and we tried to find engaging ways to communicate information so it would resonate with the community,” Bobadilla said.
One of those methods included creating a video using the popular “Gangnam Style” song. Instead of the Korean rapper PSY, the district featured bus drivers, principals, and students from all the bond campuses who danced and encouraged residents to “Vote Early Style.”
In less than 48 hours from its debut, the video had more than 21,000 hits on YouTube with more than 100,000 hits to date.
In addition, district staff held community meetings, produced fliers and print materials, answered questions via email, and updated the web with articles that highlighted facility needs and stressed the importance of 21st century learning tools.
“It was important to share with the community so they knew there was a lot of good work happening within our school buildings,” Bobadilla said. “These are the things our kids need for the jobs of tomorrow.”
Workshop attendee Briar Hannah didn’t need any convincing about the importance of school bond programs supporting student success, especially in preparation for college and careers.
“We need to make sure our students feel like they are walking into schools that mirror the workforce,” said Hannah, a project architect at Corgan Associates in Dallas. “It should empower them to be open-minded, innovative, creative, and really inspire them,” Hannah said.
Jeffrey Richard, chairman of the Austin Community College District’s board of trustees, turned out for the session in hopes of getting some tips for passing a bond referendum that will refurbish the college system’s existing buildings and add technology to classrooms.
One of Richard’s key takeaways from the presentation was to make the information sharing process fun and to get everyone involved in communicating the needs so the public understands what you’re asking them for and why, he said.
“Leo provided several good pieces of advice: You know your community. Give the process as much time as it takes for there to be a clear understanding of the needs and for people to feel that they have been heard,” Richard said.
About 360 people attended the three-day conference, which featured other workshops and product exhibits.