Claremont Insider: Game Plan

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Game Plan

If you are interested in learning about the playbook Claremont Unified School District will follow in their proposed school bond campaign, you don't have to look far. On December 4 last year, at the 2009 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Diego County, you could have attended a workshop on how to craft successful bond measures. This was part of conference organized by the California School Board Association.

The workshop, titled "Dynamics of a Successful Bond Campaign," laid out the strategies school districts like CUSD need to employ to ensure passage of school bond measures. We've attached the PowerPoint (what else?) presentation below. There were four speakers, one school district superintendent and three private sector representatives.

The private sector speakers all represented businesses that assist agencies with bonds, either with the actual campaigns or with issuing the bonds after voters approve them. One of the speakers was Jared Boigon, a partner at TBWB Strategies, the company CUSD hired a while back to conduct a poll to determine the level of support a bond or parcel tax would have with Claremont voters. TBWB also worked for CUSD on the Measure Y campaign in 2000. Boigon was the person who reported on the poll to the CUSD Board of Education in June.

As you may know, TBWB is more than a humble polling firm. TBWB advertises itself as having a three-step formula for getting bond measures passed:

  • Organize

    TBWB will organize and train your volunteers to mobilize supporters, communicate a clear, consistent message, conduct private fundraising and turn out supporters to the polls.

  • Communicate

    TBWB will identify the key message that voters need to hear to support your measure. Using our in-house, award-winning design department, TBWB will craft unique, eye-catching direct mail suited to your particular community that carries the message you need to win.

  • Win

    At TBWB, we have the experience needed to win campaigns and ensure your agency receives the funding it needs. Our hands-on approach means that we craft a campaign plan and develop materials suited for your particular community, instead of using a cookie-cutter approach.

    With TBWB, your campaign will have the support and guidance needed to secure funding for local schools, community colleges, hospitals, firefighters, police, transportation or other needed services.

Another speaker was David Casnocha, a partner with the law firm of Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth. Stradling Yocca is a firm that, among many other things, provides bond counsel service. Stradling's David Casnocha was employed by CUSD in 2000, and the Claremont Redevelopment Agency (the five city councilmembers and the city manager) has also used Stradling Yocca in past for bond counsel.

A third speaker was Mark Farrell, the managing director of Piper Jaffray & Co. , an investment banking firm that underwrites municipal bonds. Piper Jaffray's literature says that they can do more than underwriting. They can help with the election:
Capital planning & bond election services

Your school district's bond issue starts with capital planning. We'll help you determine the cost of your project, how much your school district can afford and what the impact to taxpayers will be. This requires in-depth knowledge of your state's property tax system, tax equalization laws and bond issuance statutes.

Next, we'll use our knowledge of local election laws to structure your bond issue in a way that voters are most likely to accept. We'll even help you review and design election surveys and campaign materials – because we know how critical it is for your bond issue to pass.
Take a look at the seminar outline below. As you can see, Page 3 of the presentation give us the election road map, one which CUSD seems to have faithfully followed in setting up their 2010 bond measure:
  • Prepare a District “road show” for community and parent presentations
    (We've called them "dog-and-pony shows." Whatever term you use, in Claremont they've certainly put the fiscal fear of God into the locals. -ed)

  • Be visible and interact with community, parents and staff with consistent talking points regarding the bond
    (This explains why you've heard the same ideas tossed out by bond proponents in school board town halls and in letters to the Courier.)

  • Engage a consultant firm to develop a plan and follow their advice
    (May we suggest TBWB for your plan developing and advising pleasure?)

  • Know your community
    (Know your friends, discredit your opponents.)

  • Don’t take short cuts and don’t assume anything
    (Um.... but assuming is one CSUD's and the Claremont 400's favorite pastimes. They'll have to work on this bullet point.)

  • Make sure your campaign is strong and visible before the absentee ballots are mailed
    (See road and/or dog-and-pony shows above. Also, see yesterday's district-wide mailer.)
And page 10 underscores the importance of getting a strong election message together and out into the ether way before the campaign:
Prepare “Message Frame” Before Campaign
  • Link to state budget situation
    (The sky is falling, the sky is falling!)

  • Focus on academics
    (But spend on fluff.)

  • Second or third bonds: talk about success, not failure
    (Don't mention what happened with the last bond money.)

  • Local Local Local
    (Somos loco, loco, loco.)

  • Trust polling
    (Trust TBWB. And prepay, please. No, really.)

So you skeptics out there can see that we're not Grassy Knoll-variety conspiracy freaks when we say that much of what you've seen and heard about the district budget from CSUD for the last six months or so has been designed to bring us to this point. The vote tomorrow night represents just one more box to be checked off on a decision that was made a long time ago before the public ever got involved. The rest has been window dressing.

The alternative to a bond is a parcel tax, which we believe is a better way of bridging the district's three-year budget gap. We think a limited parcel tax with a sunset clause would be more attractive because would involve much less money than a bond - around $5-6 million versus $95 million - so it would be an easier sell in a bad economy. And according to what CUSD has reported, the TBWB poll the board commissioned shows about a 65% approval rating for a parcel tax, and a 58% approval rating for a bond. The parcel tax needs 67% to pass, and the bond needs 55%.

Sure, some work would have to be done to bump that 65% up, but it's been done here before. As we've already pointed out, the Johnson's Pasture bond in 2006 also needed 67%, which the Claremont 400 said was impossible to reach. It ended up with about 72%.

Tomorrow: A brief trip in time to 2000 and the last school bond campaign.