Another Higher Ed Bond Referendum Coming

You heard it here first (unless you heard it from the same source I heard it from): The Kaine administration is putting the finishing touches on a monster bond offering to finance another round of higher education construction projects.

If approved in a voter referendum, this bond initiative will be even bigger than the one launched during the Warner administration. It will have goodies for everyone — colleges, universities and community colleges.

In 2005, the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) was projecting an enrollment increase of 56,510 students between 2004 and 2012. Most of the demand was expected to occur in the Community College system, with half of it coming from Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

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4 responses to “Another Higher Ed Bond Referendum Coming”

  1. Groveton Avatar

    How will the proposed bond work? Raise money with the bond issue with the idea that the money will be paid back through tuition payments from the new students.

  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …”paid back through tuition payments from the new students.”


    are you kidding? this is a bona fide tax&spend deal .. I betcha

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    I’m pretty sure the bonds would be issued by the state, to be repaid by General Fund tax revenues.

    I’m sure Groveton will want to scrutinize the list of projects when it’s published to see if this represents another money grab in which NoVa gets short-changed. I’ll bet the NoVa Community Colleges fare pretty well, though.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    The following was written by Margaret C.H. Kelly and Matthew Zieper: It can also be found at

    When a state, county, or community
    identifies the need for additional
    capital, it has several options ranging from
    increasing sales or other taxes, to special
    fees for services, to bonding. A jurisdic-
    tion often chooses to issue bonds to avoid
    raising taxes and fees and/or to meet the
    specific capital needs of the project. While
    different states have varying restrictions
    on the abilities of state and local govern-
    ments to levy taxes or impose fees, all
    jurisdictions may issue debt.
    But issuing debt is not always the
    easiest option. In most states, bonds
    backed by general taxes (general obliga-
    tion bonds) must be approved by the
    voters. Trying to convince the voters of
    the need for a $20 million library or park
    can be a difficult task. In some communi-
    ties, anti-tax groups who oppose govern-
    ment spending may organize to oppose the
    bond measure, and the government is left
    scrambling to rally support.
    Finance officers and elected officials
    typically do not have the background to
    organize and then support a bond referen-
    dum. But in spite of that, they will need to
    take on the role of marketing executive/
    campaign manager/community cheerleader
    in order to get a bond referendum passed.
    This article highlights six steps necessary
    to pass a bond measure and provides case
    studies of two communities who success-
    fully passed bond measures.
    Winning a Bond Measure
    Putting a bond referendum before the
    voters is only the tip of the iceberg. Most
    of the work already has been done by
    election day. From structuring a bond
    package that meets the needs of a commu-
    nity to implementation of the project
    funded by the bond, there are six steps
    that facilitate a sound public finance
    1) capacity building;
    2) feasibility research;
    3) polling;
    4) measure design;
    5) campaigning; and
    6) implementation.
    The purpose of capacity building is to
    build a broad base of community-based
    leadership to assist with the development
    of the proposed public finance measure.
    At this stage, it is important to identify
    local leadership and facilitate communica-
    tion among interested parties.
    During the feasibility research phase,
    relevant information is gathered to inform
    the development of public opinion polling
    and measure design. At this juncture, it is
    necessary to consider fiscal issues (current
    funding, bond ratings, revenue trends, and
    debt burden), political circumstances
    (local political trends and other pending
    ballot questions), key community issues
    and priorities, and results of past elec-
    During the next step, polling, the goal is
    to identify voter priorities. This includes
    quantifying the amount that voters are
    willing to pay for these priorities, as well
    as narrowing down compelling arguments
    for the project and testing actual ballot
    Measure design involves developing
    ballot language that appeals to voters and
    clearly explains how this measure ad-
    dresses the particular issue targeted by the
    bond and meets the needs of the commu-
    nity. At this stage, it is also important to
    review the proposed measure with the
    appropriate government and bond coun-
    The focus of the campaign is straight-
    forward: publicize the proposed ballot
    measure and encourage voter turnout.
    Campaign steps include disseminating
    direct mail pieces, promoting the cause via
    other means (e.g., Web sites), and orches-
    trating media coverage.
    The last step, implementation, assumes
    a successful campaign. Now that the
    voters have approved the measure, it is
    important to ensure a smooth transition to
    the next appropriate project phase. Each
    set of local circumstances requires that
    this six step continuum be a flexible tool
    and a work in progress. The two case
    studies discussed below highlight different
    circumstances and goals, as well as differ-
    ent approaches.
    Case Studies: Two Referendums
    This section consists of case studies
    detailing two successful bond referendum
    campaigns that the Trust for Public Land
    assisted governments with—one in a
    county and one in a state. The first case
    study—Dade County, Florida—examines
    the successful passage of a $200 million
    general obligation bond to fund the Safe
    Neighborhood Parks Act of 1996. The
    second case study looks at the steps taken
    by the State of California to win passage
    of the $2.1 billion Safe Neighborhood
    Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and
    Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000.
    Dade County, Florida
    On November 5, 1996, voters in Dade
    County approved a $200 million general
    obligation bond measure to fund capital
    improvements at countywide park and
    recreational facilities. Passed with 67
    percent of the vote (the highest percentage
    for a fiscal measure in Dade County
    history), the Safe Neighborhood and Parks
    Act united the county and its municipali-
    ties in a common cause: to demonstrate
    how parks and recreation programs can
    make a community safer and improve the
    residents’ quality of life. The success of
    this bond referendum can be attributed to
    Page 2
    2001 • G
    a thoroughly researched and strategically
    implemented effort by a well-rounded and
    devoted community task force. Some
    background information about Dade
    County and some of the critical steps
    taken are discussed below.
    In 1972, the Decade of Progress bond
    referendum established an award-winning
    parks and recreation system in Dade
    County, Florida. In the years that fol-
    lowed, however, operating and capital
    budgets received annual reductions, and in
    the 10 years prior to the 1996 referen-
    dum, there were six failed attempts by
    Dade County Park and Recreation De-
    partment staff to get a capital improve-
    ment bond measure on the ballot. By
    1995, park and recreation needs were
    estimated to be more than $1 billion.
    In this hostile, “no new taxes” environ-
    ment, Dade County Park and Recreation
    staff and a network of local, state, and
    national experts pulled together a coali-
    tion that took the following—ultimately
    Research and Polling. In addition to
    determining the financial needs of the 29
    municipalities in Dade County, a promi-
    nent California public opinion firm polled
    nearly 500 voters from a cross-section of
    ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
    The results of this poll ascertained that
    Dade County voters were concerned
    about crime (juvenile violence, in particu-
    lar), government mismanagement, and
    rampant growth and development.
    County priorities were identified as
    providing juvenile crime prevention
    facilities, protecting natural resources,
    creating safer neighborhood parks and
    facilities, and improving the quality of
    life. To achieve these goals, voters ex-
    pressed a willingness-to-pay of no more
    than $7-10 per household (annually) with
    a cap of $200 million in total cost.
    A second poll several months later gave
    the effort its name, the Safe Neighbor-
    hood Parks Act of 1996, and helped
    organizers identify respected community
    spokespeople, the most beneficial election
    timing, and the critical swing voters. The
    poll further emphasized the intensity of
    the public’s distrust of government.
    Knowing the voters and allowing them to
    help develop the parameters of the pro-
    posed measure were critical to the ulti-
    mate success of this referendum.
    Measure Design. A coalition of busi-
    ness and civic leaders formed the Trust for
    Safe Neighborhood Parks (The Trust),
    which began to screen potential projects
    to be included. This draft, or ordinance,
    was a critical step in the process because it
    would have to be approved by the Board of
    County Commissioners (BCC) to appear
    on the ballot and needed to meet the legal
    requirements of a bond measure. Further-
    more, the ordinance needed to address
    citizen concerns of government misman-
    agement of public funds. To assuage this
    latter concern, the ordinance called for the
    creation of a Citizens’ Oversight Commit-
    tee, a detailed exhibit of the specific
    projects funded by this money, and inde-
    pendent annual audits of approved
    projects. Last, before a draft of the ordi-
    nance was finalized, project proponents
    met with elected officials of both the
    municipalities and the county to incorpo-
    rate their feedback and garner support.
    With a proposed ordinance in hand, the
    Trust sought the endorsements of munici-
    pal governments, chambers of commerce,
    law enforcement agencies, religious and
    educational institutions, and others. They
    also embarked upon a series of mandatory
    public forums throughout the county. In
    July, the BCC approved the ordinance for
    inclusion on the November ballot and the
    second phase of the campaign began.
    Fundraising, Message Development,
    and Communications. For practical and
    logistical purposes, the post-July cam-
    paign was split in two: 1) a grassroots
    effort headed by the local office of a
    national non-governmental organization
    (NGO) and their political action commit-
    tee (PAC), and 2) a media campaign
    organized by a Citizens Advisory Commit-
    tee (CAC), which incorporated the Trust.
    Fundraising efforts were undertaken at
    both the grassroots and corporate levels.
    Sources included parks support organiza-
    tions with operating budgets (e.g., the
    Zoological Society), playground equip-
    ment vendors, landscapers, corporations,
    financial institutions, and individuals. The
    bulk of these funds paid for professional
    political consultants, airtime, and the
    production of 30-second Spanish and
    English television commercials.
    The grassroots campaign produced two
    messages: 1) the benefits-based message,
    and 2) the consumer message. The ben-
    efits-based message focused on quantifying
    research to highlight the benefits derived
    from improved park and recreation facili-
    ties. The consumer-based message re-
    minded voters that the ordinance had been
    designed so that “no blank check” would
    be given to government if voters approved
    this bond measure.
    These two messages were conveyed via
    direct mail, signs at parks, an active
    speakers’ bureau, and a volunteer phone
    bank that contacted more than 15,000
    potential voters. A professional media
    campaign included print media (editorial
    discussions as well as some print adver-
    tisement) and broadcast media (public
    access television, Spanish-language radio,
    and two 30-second television commer-
    An additional consideration during this
    phase of the campaign was the presence
    of competing issues on the ballot. Not
    only is there the potential for some voters
    to “drop off” (proceed no further) once
    they have cast their vote for candidates in
    the larger elections, but other ballot
    questions may spark controversy so that
    voters either vote “no” for all issues or
    confuse issues. In the Dade County
    election there was a hotly contested race
    for the executive mayor’s office, a no-
    new-taxes/anti-government proposal, a
    “Save the Everglades” proposed amend-
    ment, and a referendum to build a new
    arena for the local professional basketball
    team. For the most part, these issues were
    cast in a very negative light, playing on
    the public’s fear of overtaxation, govern-
    ment waste, and environmental damage.
    The Safe Neighborhood Parks Act coun-
    tered this ballot competition by offering a
    positive benefits-based message.
    Results and Implementation. On the
    day of the election, volunteers in “Vote
    for My Park” t-shirts, carrying placards
    and handing out palm cards covered the
    precincts’ polling stations. The result was
    better than most had hoped for, with a 67
    percent “yes” vote.
    Between the November 1996 win and
    the fall of 1997—when the first round of
    bonds were sold—the Administrative
    Rules of the CAC were drafted. This
    involved a task force comprised of
    municipal park and recreation directors.
    Simultaneously, the BCC appointed a 23-
    member Nominating Committee charged
    with finding COC candidates from each
    parks and recreation district. There are
    13 members of the COC-–one from each
    district-–who serve on one or more of
    the three subcommittees: 1) Grant
    Application and Review, 2) Administra-
    tive Rules, and 3) Grant Monitoring and
    Auditing. Each year, the Safe Neighbor-
    hood Parks Bond Program issues a
    public year-end report highlighting
    accomplishments and discussing the
    year’s work.
    Page 3
    2001 • G
    On March 7, 2000, the voters of
    California passed the $2.1 billion Safe
    Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean
    Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act with
    more than 63 percent of the vote. Prior to
    this success, the state’s last park bond was
    passed in 1988. While the 1970s generated
    $590 million in park bonds and the 1980s
    produced park bonds totaling $1.7 billion,
    the dearth of new bonds funds in the
    1990s took its toll on the state’s parks and
    recreational facilities and open space
    Research and Polling. There were
    several rounds of polling throughout the
    various stages of the campaign. Early
    polls, prior to drafting the bill, were
    conducted to gauge support for the differ-
    ent issues (e.g., parks, water) in an effort
    to construct a strong and cohesive bill. A
    campaign poll, conducted after the mea-
    sure was on the ballot, assessed the stron-
    gest arguments for and against the bill and
    sought to identify key swing voter popula-
    tions. Finally, results of tracking polls as
    the election neared gave campaign manag-
    ers feedback on the effectiveness of their
    various efforts.
    Once the bill was approved by the
    state legislature and headed for the
    March election, grassroots support for
    the bill—now known as Proposition 12
    or the proposed Safe Neighborhood
    Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and
    Coastal Protection Bond Act—coalesced
    into a formal steering group: Californians
    for Safe Neighborhood Parks and Clean
    Measure Design and Competing Issues.
    The bond measure was designed specifi-
    cally to meet the many and diverse needs
    of the counties and communities through-
    out the state. After so many years with
    no new capital funding for parks and
    open space, competition for funds was
    intense. Proposition 12’s funding priori-
    ties were the result of months of negotia-
    tion within the state legislature. In the
    end, the bill sought to address issues
    related to coastline, watersheds, Lake
    Tahoe, open space in the suburbs, farm-
    land, forests, fish and wildlife habitat,
    and the crumbling parks and recreation
    infrastructure. The $2.1 billion was
    divided between regions and communi-
    ties, but funds were assigned to agencies
    or causes as follows: local parks (35
    percent), state parks (26 percent), conser-
    vancies (17 percent), wildlife and land
    acquisition (13 percent), park acquisition
    for low-income and at-risk youth (5
    percent), resources agency (2 percent),
    and other (2 percent).
    In terms of crafting the actual ballot
    language, representatives of supporting
    grassroots and non-government organiza-
    tions played a significant role by assisting
    the bill’s authors. This constructive dia-
    logue between those in the legislature and
    those “in the field” ensured that the
    measure reflected polling results and voter
    There were four additional spending
    (bond) issues on the March ballot: 1) a
    water bond known as Proposition 13, 2) a
    library bond, 3) a bond to build veteran
    retirement homes, and 4) a bond to build
    a criminal forensics laboratory. The ballot
    also consisted of 14 other ballot measures,
    as well as the primary elections of presi-
    dential and legislative candidates.
    All of these campaigns were competing
    to get their particular message to the
    voters simultaneously. Likewise, each
    spending proposal would be accepted or
    rejected by voters based on the unique
    circumstances of each ballot measure.
    Because Propositions 12 and 13 had
    similar conservation-oriented objectives,
    their proponents sought to achieve a
    critical mass of sorts and merged forces to
    run a joint campaign.
    Fundraising, Outreach, and Communi-
    cations. Fundraising efforts were managed
    by an executive committee of the Califor-
    nians for Safe Neighborhood Parks and
    Clean Water. Donations came from land
    trusts, the environmental community,
    companies with a significant presence in
    California, and philanthropic individuals
    and organizations. In total, the joint
    campaigns for Propositions 12 and 13 cost
    approximately $7 million—all of which
    was raised from these fundraising sources.
    The multi-media publicity campaign
    behind Propositions 12 and 13 was
    coordinated by Californians for Safe
    Neighborhood Parks and Clean Water.
    Direct mail pieces, the brochure, newspa-
    per advertisements, and fliers made the
    case for both Propositions 12 and 13.
    Television and radio spots for the two
    propositions were run in the few weeks
    preceding the election. In addition to
    these materials, direct mail pieces on
    behalf of the two conservation-oriented
    propositions were sent out with the
    endorsements of the California Black
    Chamber of Commerce, the Latin Ameri-
    can Voters of America, the Planning and
    Conservation League, the American
    Association of Retired Persons, the
    League of Women Voters, the California
    Chamber of Commerce, and Cal-Tax.
    These groups demonstrated a wide base of
    support for the two bond proposals.
    The Audubon-California division
    launched its own media campaign in
    support of Propositions 12 and 13 in
    Spanish, recognizing that the urban
    Spanish population of California repre-
    sented a key group of voters. Proposition
    12, in particular, addressed the parks and
    recreation concerns of many urban His-
    panic constituents.
    Results and Implementation. Both
    Propositions 12 and 13 were passed by
    voters in the March 7 election, with 63.2
    percent and 64.9 percent of the vote
    respectively. Of the other proposed spend-
    ing measures on the ballot, only the bond
    to support a new criminal forensics lab
    did not pass. Of all the proposed spending
    measures, however, Propositions 12 and
    13 received the highest percentage of votes
    in favor of the measure.
    The bond as passed requires that all
    funds be appropriated by the California
    legislature through the budget process. To
    date, the legislature has approved more
    than three-quarters of a billion dollars in
    new bonds under the now implemented
    Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water,
    Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond
    While it is never easy to ask voters to
    raise their taxes to pay for critical capital
    investments, in this case parks and open
    space, there are several critical steps that
    can increase the likelihood of success. To
    boil it down to the core: 1) Find out voter
    priorities through public opinion research;
    2) ask them how much they are willing to
    pay, 3) craft a ballot measure that reflects
    voter interests and 4) communicate the
    benefits to likely supporters. In essence,
    give the voters what they want.
    Some states and local jurisdictions have restrictions
    against government employees (e.g., finance officers)
    campaigning on behalf of ballot measures, so be sure
    to consult your government’s legal counsel first. In
    most instances, however, elected officials are free to
    campaign for any measure, or finance officers can
    enlist the help of community leaders to support the
    measure in their stead.

    Successful Bond Referendum Will Provide New, Improved Schools

    The voters of Durham County gave the good work of Durham Public Schools a resounding show of approval on November 6 by approving the school bond referendum by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. This means three new schools, plus extensive additions and renovations to many more.
    Dozens of school and community leaders and supporters turned out to celebrate the overwhelming victory at the Museum of Life & Science. The event honored the many citizens who worked so hard to ensure passage of the bond.
    DPS collaborated with many community partners to spread the word throughout our community about our needs for new schools, along with expansion and renovation to many others. In the weeks leading up to the vote, bond teams comprising DPS employees, parents and community supporters scheduled presentations at their own schools, along with dozens of neighborhood and civic organizations and communities of faith.
    MaryAnn Black, Associate Vice President of Community Relations for Duke University Medical Center, and Steve Toler of Steve Toler LLC, were the co-chairs of the Vote for Learning committee, which promoted the bond. The committee comprises representatives from Durham Public Schools, Durham Technical Community College and the Museum of Life & Science.
    The bond will provide $194.2 million in funding for a new elementary, middle and high school to ease crowding at a number of schools, plus provide additions and renovations for 17 existing schools, some of which date back more than 80 years. The bond also would provide land purchase funds for future schools, plus playground upgrades.

    District 5 considers building options
    Lexington-Richland 5 school board might try a third time to pass a school construction plan in 2008, chairwoman Paul Hite said after Monday’s board meeting.
    “We are going to do a little bit of brainstorming and looking at our options,” she said.
    Irmo-Chapin area voters Nov. 6 defeated a $256.5 million bond referendum that would have built three new schools and renovated seven existing ones.
    It was the second time the loosely organized group, “Putting Students First,” composed largely of area retirees, led a successful bid to defeat a school construction plan.
    In 2005, voters overwhelmingly rejected a $131.4 million construction plan.
    Members of both the watchdog group and political science professors said the 12-member group with roughly 300 unofficial supporters cemented its status as a strong political voice.
    At Monday’s District 5 school board meeting, Chapin resident and group member Don Carlson said the group recognizes schools are becoming crowded but disagrees with the district on what the needs are and how much to pay for them.
    “If you have an open, two-way public board meeting and find out what the public did not like about the past bond referendums, there’s no reason we can’t have a positive bond referendum in 2008,” he told board members.
    Hite said after the meeting that group members were included in the discussions. She said Carlson served on a facilities committee.
    In the month leading to the election, Putting Students First members sent out direct mailings and e-mails, wrote letters to the editor and posted fliers listing reasons to vote against the construction plan.
    Republican political strategist Rod Shealy Jr. has worked as the “Vote No” campaign consultant for the past two bond referendums.
    He said he saw the reward for the group’s aggressive campaign on election day.
    “In talking to people who told me why they voted no, they were listing the reasons that we put on the fliers,” he said.
    “I thought, ‘wow unlike typical political campaigns, people are reading theses fliers top to bottom.’”
    Some Chapin parents complained after the Nov. 6 vote that members used scare tactics and placed inflated emphasis on higher tax bills.
    On election day, Kim Murphy was among a number of callers to the Richland Election Commission to get results before all the votes had been counted.
    Murphy often attends monthly school board meetings, questioning board members and administrators during the public participation and recording the proceedings on a personal tape recorder.
    She said she has questioned whether she is stepping on toes, but residents have reassured her she performs a service.
    “We’re passionate about doing what’s right for our district and our community,” said Murphy, a Chapin parent and member of the group.
    Chapin parent Karen Owens worked with the District 5 First committee to garner support for the referendum, and said she was surprised it didn’t win in any Chapin precinct.
    She said she’d met some of the “Vote No” members, and their message appealed to retirees with fixed incomes and younger residents without children.
    “I’m right in the middle of that(demographic.) I have two young people I’m trying to get through the public school system,” she said.
    Furman political science professor Glen Halva-Neubauer said grass-roots organizations can wield a lot of power in socially conservative areas where residents prefer a “back to basics” approach.
    “These are going to be folks who are sort of fed up with more tax money coming out of their pockets,” he said.
    A number of voters said the construction plan seemed excessive and the proposed school buildings were extravagant.
    “(They’re thinking) ‘we’re for public education.
    ‘“We did reasonably well with the education we got. We didn’t need art or music theory or these kinds of facilities,’” Halva-Neubauer said.
    Lexington-Richland 5’s united school board and new superintendent helped create a smaller margin than in 2005, Halva-Neubauer said.
    He said the district will continue to hold the burden of proof by trying to advocate change.
    “It’s generally easier to defeat something than to win a vote.”
    Reach Copeland at (803) 771-8485.

    November 04, 2007
    Mayor White endorses HISD bond referendum
    Earlier this week, Matt Stiles noted that Mayor White had not yet taken a public position on the HISD bond referendum. Well, now he has, with an endorsement op-ed that’s in the print edition of today’s Chron but which for some reason I can’t find online.
    Nothing is more important to our city, state and nation than the education of future generations. I personally have seen schools within the Houston Independent School District in need of repair or reconstruction. So I support the issuance of bonds by the Houston Independent School District to pay for these school improvements. The alternatives would be to increase tax rates by financing improvements without the use of debt or to allow schools to deteriorate even more.
    I urge citizens not to vote against HISD’s bond issue in protest. Students should not suffer because of the errors of individuals within school governance and administration.
    Many citizens have doubts about HISD’s bond issue because of concerns about school closings and consolidations. I share their questions about school closings, and have expressed myself forcefully to HISD.

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