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Board schooled on running bond election

The board of the Sequoia Union High School District is thinking about putting a bond measure before the voters in 2014, possibly for $225 million, to build more classrooms and other infrastructure to meet an anticipated 22 percent enrollment increase over the next six years.

With a June election as a favorable option but one with an abbreviated window for launching a campaign, a question arises: How does the district persuade at least 55 percent of voters to approve this sizable bond measure?

Sarah Stern-Benoit, a partner at San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies, a public-finance ballot-measure consulting firm, made a presentation to the board on this question on Jan. 22. A few rules stood out:

■ Conduct a survey of prospective voters -- surveying is now underway -- and focus on the impact to a property owner's tax rate rather than the size of the measure. A $225 million measure would increase taxes by $10 to $12 per $100,000 of assessed value. "Voters are most concerned with the rate per $100,000," Ms. Stern-Benoit said. "Their interest is more about 'How does it impact me?'"

■ Aim for an election that tends to draw lower turnouts. In other words, elections that don't occur in November. If survey results are positive, Ms. Stern-Benoit said, "by all means, the district should move forward with the June election."

■ Enlist "opinion makers" in the district's communities to spread the word. The message, including talking points, should be tailored community by community, Ms. Stern-Benoit said.

■ Develop the ballot statement, what Ms. Stern-Benoit referred to as "the most important 75 words of (the) election," followed by the list of projects for which the money would be used. "We want to put it together and craft it carefully," she said.

The board is expected to receive the survey results at its Feb. 12 meeting, and has until March 7 to prepare a ballot statement and resolution for the June 3 election. Choosing the November election would push back the deadline to August.

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