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“Smart Choices for Smarter Schools” Bond Election Campaign: Mailer - Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

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Fort Worth, the 16th largest city in the U.S., is one of the fastest-growing metro areas. But the population explosion has strained the capacity of the school district, with enrollment of more than 80,000 students. The Fort Worth ISD proposed a bond election of $490 million for various facility expansions, technology and security upgrades and new classrooms. In Texas, the district and its employees are not legally allowed to advocate for the bond election. The Fort Worth Chamber has historically underwritten school bond public advocacy campaigns through an SPAC.  See also the related Newsletter.


Date: February 16, 2015
Organization: Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce
Chamber Website: http://www.fortworthchamber.com
City: Fort Worth, TX
Community Peer Group: Metro Cities
Revenue Category: $2,000,001 and up

“Smart Choices for Smarter Schools” Bond Election Campaign: Mailer - Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce

SYNOPSIS:

Needs Identification:

Fort Worth, the 16th largest city in the U.S., is one of the fastest-growing metro areas. But the population explosion has strained the capacity of the school district, with enrollment of more than 80,000 students. The Fort Worth ISD proposed a bond election of $490 million for various facility expansions, technology and security upgrades and new classrooms. In Texas, the district and its employees are not legally allowed to advocate for the bond election. The Fort Worth Chamber has historically underwritten school bond public advocacy campaigns through an SPAC.

Obstacles:

The bond program was proposed in July and the election was November 5. Although the ISD had scheduled a series of town hall meetings explaining the propositions, this was fast-tracking the election in some residents’ minds and was a short timeframe for advocacy and fundraising. Controversy arose in one neighborhood about combining or eliminating a beloved elementary campus. A statewide ultra-conservative policy group opposing all taxpayer debt and playing to a post-recession, anti-tax mood campaigned against issuance of any bonds. The original amount of the bond proposal was $777 million, or .09 per $100 valuation. Chamber leadership was concerned the tax amount would be too high to ensure passage in the election.

Goal: To persuade voters to pass the bond propositions by at least 60 percent.

Implementation:

A political consulting firm was hired to conduct polling to determine voter interest and opinion. After a series of private discussions with the ISD superintendent and school leadership, political consultants and Chamber board members -- and a newspaper editorial calling for the Chamber and ISD to reach agreement -- the ISD developed three separate propositions and trimmed the total proposed amount to $490 million, or .03 per $100 valuation. The Chamber Board of Directors resolved to support the initiative and proceed with fundraising from business leaders, ISD supporters and past contributors to local campaigns. With the tagline “Smart Choices for Smarter Schools,” the consulting firm executed direct mail tactics targeting 17,500 seniors to vote by mail. Two other mailers encouraged early voting (to get ahead of the opposition) and went to 40,000 residents within the ISD who had voted in previous local elections. Chamber staff and volunteers distributed 2,500 yard signs at events. The Chamberletter, printed in the Star-Telegram monthly, covered the initiative twice. The Chamber’s annual State of Education luncheon in October provided a platform for the superintendent to educate the business audience. Mayor Betsy Price endorsed the bond on the direct mail pieces and at the luncheon. The Chamber and FWISD coordinated social media sharing of news stories and information from the ISD’s website. Media coverage was aggressive throughout the campaign and the editorial board of the Star-Telegram, our major daily, supported the bond package.

Budget: $108,000 for the SPAC (Citizens Supporting Classroom Excellence) to cover campaign consulting, polling, writing, direct mailings, signage.

Results: Voters overwhelmingly passed all three bond propositions by 73, 72 and 72 percent, respectively. The propositions passed by an average 4.5% higher margin in the early vote, which was dominated by seniors, than among younger election day voters. Throughout the 10-week campaign, the Chamber’s key message of investment in a well-educated workforce by having up-to-date infrastructure and curriculum were carried in seven Star-Telegram stories, two weekly business journal stories and two broadcast media stories, in addition to our own Chamber communication vehicles.

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