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School facility referendum / $162.7 million
Beaufort County, SC
Spring 2008

Assessment:

  • A newly-arrived Superintendent of schools and a new Board of Education
  • Well-publicized financial and procurement difficulties with the last major referendum in the county in 2000
  • Downturn in national and local economy, including gasoline spiking to $4/gal
  • 10,000 residents in Sun City Hilton Head, an age-restricted active retirement community
  • Pervasive sense that one area of the county had received the bulk of recent school district facilities funding

Planning:

  • Capitalize on the new superintendent’s “honeymoon of trust”
  • Promote new internal facility and construction planning team
  • Showcase low tax impact (less than $16/year on a $200,000 home)
  • Identify key precincts and geographic areas needed to carry the vote, based on past voter trends, new demographic information, economic impact assessment on specific voter groups
  • Data-based decisions with full reporting of all studies
  • Need for multiple community information meetings for direct delivery of the referendum plan without media filters
  • Need for community-based leadership group to actively promote referendum passage via advertisements, website, direct marketing, phone polling, etc.

Communication:

  • Created fold-out brochure / poster detailing the need for a $162.7 million facility improvement plan, tax impact, list of projects
  • Created individual posters for each of 28 schools detailing what that school would receive from the referendum and from other capital improvement funding
  • Created new website as online library for all referendum-related documents, listing of upcoming community meetings, news releases, project updates and full facilities report
  • Booked the Superintendent to approximately 60 speaking engagements over three-month period for face to face presentation, distribution of brochures
  • Media relations included news releases, ghostwritten op/eds, letters to the editor
  • Lowcountry KidsFirst campaign committee independently raised funds for promotion of referendum, conducted its own marketing meetings based on precinct assessments
  • Created two short videos (six-eight minutes) showcasing crowded schools, students in mobile classrooms, long bus rides and changing demographics of Beaufort County School District; distributed these videos to all local cable providers

Evaluation:

  • The April 26, 2008 $162.7 million school bond referendum passed
  • Although Sun City residents opposed the referendum, key County precincts carried the vote.
  • Informal focus group findings showed strong penetration of brochure/poster, media relations campaign and website.