« Blog

Solid Pre-Referendum Planning: a must in K12 School Construction

By Michael Ginalski

A retired NFL coach by the name of Bill Parcells once said “you don’t get any medals for trying” and that phrase holds true in planning for a successful school referendum. To achieve support from a community, Superintendents and Boards of Education must recognize that the idea of “trying hard” isn’t enough. A very high level of strategic planning is necessary which addresses multiple factors which influence everything from how the project meets student educational needs to recognizing the socio-political forces within a community that can impact a vote. Starting from day one, here are five key elements to consider before launching your facilities planning effort:

What’s the plan?

Every district needs to consistently review and update their facilities Master Plan which includes Building Condition Survey (BCS) information. Ultimately, this plan must ensure that future construction supports the instructional plan of the school district. A long-term facilities Master Plan is definitely preferable and ensures districts stay on track.

Trust is a must.

Teamwork and a trusting relationship between the Owner, Architect, and Construction Manager is vitally important to the success of a vote. The three entities must be moving as one as directed by the district to ensure needs are met and the project is a success. Without this, a referendum will likely not be successful.

Communicate. Listen. Share.

Engaging the staff and community during this phase is vital. Teachers, staff, and community can help districts during this phase eliminate potential blind spots both in the development of the project proposal and managing forces within the community. A consistent commitment to communicating with the staff and public is absolutely necessary.

Finances, of course.

A thorough review of debt limit, state aid ability, maximizing dollars, and controlling costs in developing the plan is a very necessary step in the pre-referendum process. Solid estimators, bond counsel, and school business officials are a district’s best friend in this phase.

Walk the walk!

Make sure you follow through on all promises made during this phase. Complete transparency and being honest about choices creates trust and buy in. One of the worst things that can happen in this phase is to gather feedback and not use any of it. Or worse, being dishonest about decisions made. This can make a referendum effort turn sideways in a hurry.

A successful school referendum can transform a community. Doing the hard work up front the right way will ensure that opportunity is maximized.

Mike joins Welliver as our K12 Communication Liaison after 33 years working in the K12 education sector. He brings a comprehensive understanding and direct exposure to all of the issues facing public education today. In his 13 years as the Superintendent in Corning-Painted Post (CPP) Area School District, Mike led the district through four successful referendums which led to $260M in new construction from 2010-2020. Mike bridges the gap between Welliver’s construction management teams and K12 school district superintendents, school boards, and facility directors. He provides expertise and guidance, as well as helps districts carry out capital improvement initiatives involving pre-referendum voting, budget management, community outreach, and buildings and grounds personnel. Mike can be reached at [email protected].