The survey results are in for the Sequoia Union High School District and what might be done to make room for a projected 20 percent or more additional students by the 2020-21 school year. Voters would likely approve a bond measure to significantly rebuild campuses, including Menlo-Atherton and Woodside, and raise taxes by as much as $16 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value.
The survey didn't specify what a $16 tax rate would mean in terms of total available capital, but board President Allen Weiner told the Almanac that the district would have $294 million to work with.
The board met Wednesday (Feb. 12) and heard from San Mateo-based pollster Brian Godbe. To pass, a school bond measure needs the approval of 55 percent of the voters. A survey of 800 likely voters showed a June or November election easily exceeding that threshold in seven of the eight elementary school districts in the Sequoia district, and seven of the district's nine communities.
"You're in a pretty good spot, considering we're just starting with this," Mr. Godbe said.
Voters were queried on their support at five different tax rates between $16 and $8 per $100,000 of a property's assessed value. The curve showed about 65 percent support at $16 and a sharper upward trend at around $9.95, with an $8 rate gathering 75 percent.
"That ($9.95 break point) is just the psychology of human beings and purchasing behavior," Mr. Godbe said.
The research found no important differences between a June election, when turnout is typically lower, and November. One data point of statistical significance: Households with children supported a bond measure by 54 percent, compared with 40 percent for households without children.
The survey percentages reflected voters who would "definitely" or "probably" vote in favor of or against the question being asked; each question had five options for response.
The survey assessed voters' openness to arguments opposing a bond measure; a vote exceeding 45 percent would indicate a winning argument. In the survey, 44 percent voted no. "As this question goes, that's a pretty good place to be," Mr. Godbe said. "This is a pretty good sign that (the opposition's) best argument, at least that we've tested, doesn't reach that 45 percent."
Common practice is not to include the amount of a bond measure in communicating to voters, Mr. Godbe said. "It's such an abstract number that people don't get it. There's no sticker shock," he said.
He compared voter analysis to buying a car. "Until you get to telling him the monthly payments, it's not real. That's the same thing we're talking about here."
Board member Chris Thomsen asked about the chances of winning 55 percent support for a $16 tax rate. "I think you'd have a very good chance at being successful," Mr. Godbe said.
Polls are one thing, and success in an election is another, said Sarah Stern-Benoit, a partner at San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies. Informing key members of the public with a compelling plan and getting volunteers to run an effective campaign are critical to success, she said.
In opening up the discussion to the board members, Mr. Weiner asked his colleagues to explain what would be necessary to have their support for a June election -- their "big ifs." His were a "confident and thorough" analysis of the district's needs to meet the enrollment projections, and an effective leadership team for the campaign.
"We'll get a smaller turnout in June, so we'll be mobilizing a smaller community," Mr. Thomsen said, and suggested that the board consider a measure of $250 million to $260 million.
Board member Alan Sarver proposed a "very aggressive" approach to create public awareness of the enrollment projections and what they mean for the campuses.
Board member Olivia Martinez asked Ms. Stern-Benoit to talk about the benefits of hiring professionals to run the campaign, a service that TBWB Strategies provides. Such a team could map a strategy, work on getting endorsements and fundraising, manage phone banks, and get the district's message out there. "It helps to really hone that time into what has to be done locally," she said.
Volunteers are valuable in their status as "being of the community and knowing the community," Ms. Stern-Benoit said.
A June election is better, and the board should go "for as low a number as possible," Ms. Martinez said. California is one of the highest-taxed states in the country, she said. "It's very tempting to go for the maximum."
She added, "We can't afford to wait any longer. It's far easier to put a lot of effort into a short period of time rather than string it out. ... I think telling (the Sequoia district's) story is really overdue."
The board is expected to decide later this month on the ballot measure.