In just eight years, Texas’ Austin-Round Rock metro area has experienced a 23.6% population growth, ranking it third on the US Census Bureau’s list of Top 10 Metropolitan Areas in Percentage Growth. This extreme growth has created a ripple effect for the metro area’s suburban school districts, including Pflugerville Independent School District, located just 20 miles from Austin.
Our district now serves close to 26,000 students within northeast Travis County. To keep up with this boom to our student population, our district has built several new schools in the past few years. Just like any district, we also have existing buildings that require upkeep and maintenance. We also have to address evolving expectations from our community, including equipping classrooms with state-of-the-art technology, offering access to fine arts and extracurricular activities and more. All these initiatives require funds so PfISD pursues bond elections to help pay for the expansion.
A quick bond history
PfISD is no stranger to bond elections. Back in 2006, our community voted for a 2007 bond package to improve safety and security, build new schools and purchase land for future sites and renovate and care for existing buildings. It also allocated funds for technology improvements, including the installation of Epson projectors in every high school, the pilot of four interactive whiteboard solutions at each campus and the installation of almost 1,000 3D-capable short-throw projectors in our middle and elementary campuses.
In 2014, PfISD passed another bond package, which again addressed district growth, safety and security, as well as campus parity across the district. Some of the bond funds were used to replace the Epson projectors in the high schools with Epson BrightLink interactive displays and to start systematically replacing the elementary schools’ interactive whiteboards with the BrightLink display.
This past November, we pursued a $332 million bond package to accommodate PfISD’s growth in student enrollment, update aging conditions and address evolving student programs. We proposed using 49% to address the district’s growth, 26% for addressing aging systems, 7% for technology upgrades, 6% for fine arts, 4% for transportation, 3% for safety and security, 3% for athletics and 2% for career and technical education.
Getting community buy-in for bond elections
Pursuing a bond election takes a significant amount of time and effort from the district and community alike. When calling a bond, a district must walk the line between informing and advocating. This is difficult but possible. We use the following three methods to usher success on our bond elections.
1) Involve community members in the planning. Giving community members the opportunity to get involved helps them feel invested from the start. For our most recent bond, PfISD created a Citizens Facilities Advisory Committee consisting of a diverse group of taxpayers, including campus staff, community members and business leaders. The 25-person committee met eight times over the course of four months to evaluate the needs of the district. Members studied district growth, existing facility needs, bonding capacity and the results of a community survey in order to form a recommendation to present to the Board of Trustees. After reviewing the recommendation, the Board of Trustees called for the bond election.
2) Providing information is crucial. A district cannot outwardly ask the community to vote for the bond, but instead, the district should provide the information necessary to make an informed decision.
We hosted informational presentations for voters at all our campuses and various local businesses. The presentation detailed our district’s needs, our proposed spending and its impact. In the span of 45 days, we hosted approximately 80 presentations. We were also invited to present at a major computer manufacturer headquartered in our area. Many parents and community members work for the manufacturer, so this opportunity further helped reach voters in the community and to provide information about the bond and its potential impact.
We also created a microsite for the bond election that is still live today. It provides voters with a detailed look at the district’s needs, how the Citizens Facilities Advisory Committee came to their recommendation, a breakdown of how the funds will be used and other pertinent information. The website also includes our slides from our community presentations and a one-page “Quick Facts” document.
Providing information in multiple formats that community members can consult leading up to and even after the election is crucial for informed voters.
3) Show the community the impact of the bond. We make sure the community sees the improvements and projects we accomplish using bond funds on an ongoing basis. We share updates and accomplishments through our district and campus social media accounts, signs and other printed materials, as well through our close relationships with our local media.
Seeing success and moving forward
All the hard work our district and community members put into planning for and communicating about the bond election paid off; on November 6, 2018, 66% of our community voted to pass the bond package. This means we are now moving forward with our long list of projects and upgrades, including building elementary schools No. 22 and 23 and our seventh middle school, renovating buildings and completing improvements, purchasing more student devices and installing BrightLink displays in our middle schools. Come this fall, we will have the displays installed in every classroom across all 33 campuses, thanks to the bond package.
PfISD would not be where it is today without these bond packages and the support of our community. Passing a bond package seems overwhelming but having the right strategies in place will help your community understand your needs and goals, and most importantly, develop trust in your district’s leadership.
Victor Valdez is the Chief Technology Officer at Pflugerville Independent School District in Pflugerville, Texas.
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