If supporters of the Bend-La Pine school bond were nervous about voters approving the record, $268.3 million request in Tuesday’s special district election, their fears were quashed when nearly 60 percent voted yes.
The high pass rate of the capital construction bond, at 59.2 percent as of Wednesday, isn’t unique to this election or the district.
The school district’s last two bond requests also garnered about 60 percent support from voters: In 2013, a $96 million bond passed with 62.4 percent, and in 2006 a $119 million bond passed with 59.8 percent, according to Deschutes County election records.
And last Nov. 8, a North Clackamas school bond for $433 million, and a Tigard-Tualatin school bond for $291 million, passed with 62 percent and 60 percent support, respectively, according to the Oregon School Boards Association.
Still, this election’s quarter-of-a-billion-dollar bond, which will pay to build a new elementary and high school, plus more than 150 projects at district facilities, was a much bigger request than in years past for Bend-La Pine. It was more than twice the amount of the school district’s previous record-size bond.
To get the necessary votes, the political action committee Central Oregonians for Responsible Education conducted the Yes for New Schools campaign. It used tried-and-true tactics, such as canvassing and yard signs, as well as more 2017-era campaigning, such as social media, to get the word out to voters about the need for the bond, according to Christy McLeod, with the CORE PAC.
“It was a big ask of the community, so one of the big factors was explaining the ask,” McLeod said. McLeod, the former chief marketing officer of Bend Memorial Clinic who worked on marketing for seven Olympic games, led the Yes for New Schools marketing campaign.
Yes for New Schools’ target audience was those who have consistently voted in the last few elections, but McLeod said the PAC’s goal was to inform the community as a whole.
Her main concern in the campaign was misinformation and confusion about what the $268 million in bond money would go toward. Some community members thought bond money could go toward the school district’s operational costs.
McLeod said she sometimes used social media to dispel misinformation. The campaign’s social media presence wasn’t heavy on ads: There were Yes for New Schools accounts, McLeod said, and PAC members used direct communication.
For example, there were multiple threads on Nextdoor, a website and app meant to provide neighbors an online space to communicate and connect. The threads showed people didn’t understand how bond money could be used. McLeod said she would hop into those discussions and provide a link to the bend.k12.or.us/district/home/2017-Bond-Measure">school district’s detailed project list webpage.
McLeod said Bend-La Pine’s long-range planning for the bond pleasantly surprised her. The detail to which the school district outlined the projects in advance made it easy for the PAC to answer questions of constituents, she said.
“So that made it, from my perspective, really easy to do the marketing,” McLeod said.
She was also impressed with the involvement of Shay Mikalson, superintendent of Bend-La Pine, in educating the public about the school district and its growth. By Oregon law, school district superintendents cannot advocate for a school bond — they can only share information about it. In the months leading up to the election, share Mikalson did.
“We did 100 meetings in 100 days,” said Michele Emery, co-chair of the CORE PAC, discussing the number of bond presentations the PAC planned. “Shay was out there for every single one of them.”
At each of those meetings, Mikalson would give a snapshot of the Bend-La Pine school district — its challenges, successes and rapid growth.
Someone with the PAC or a school board member would attend the meetings with Mikalson to encourage audiences to vote yes.
The 100 meetings in 100 days tactic was new to the 2017 bond campaign. CORE also focused more on social media than it did in the 2013 bond campaign, and for the first time bought ads on Pandora radio, in addition to local radio stations.
Most of the money spent in the campaign was on media such as radio ads and campaign literature such as direct mailers, yard signs and palm cards — the door hanger-sized info sheets campaigners would leave tucked in front doors.
But manpower was also key, Emery said, and more robust than in years past, perhaps because of people’s heightened interest in politics since the November general election, Emery said.
“We really focused on core grass-roots canvassing and grass-roots campaigning,” Emery said. Volunteers, including teachers, parents and even students, canvassed the neighborhoods of consistent voters, but also all over, Emery said. Wherever volunteers popped up, the campaign would assign them areas to cover near where they lived.
But the canvassing didn’t include actual door-knocking, Emery said. Instead, volunteers just left palm cards at doors, and chatted with people who had questions.
“We would not knock on someone’s door,” Emery said, adding it’s not the style of the PAC to do so.
For Emery and McLeod, seeing the bond pass reaffirmed the support they believed the community has for Bend-La Pine Schools.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org