Donovan Group Insights

Is a Referendum the Answer?

Most district leaders would say “yes” to proposing a referendum. After all, referenda are created to improve the quality of education in public schools. A referendum might be the right solution for your schools, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution for the community as a whole.

The following factors can help you decide whether a referendum is the right answer.

Take stock of the district’s resources

Before you propose a referendum, take a look at your district’s current resources. This will help you determine whether a referendum is actually necessary. Review financial reports that show how much capital is allocated to certain programs and initiatives. If there aren’t enough funds to go around, proposing a referendum might be the best solution.

However, there are some cases where a referendum isn’t the right approach. Upon reviewing the financial reports, you may uncover hidden sources of capital. The district can put this capital toward programs or initiatives that really need it, such as updated equipment, school supplies or facility improvements. If your district has enough resources, consider holding off on a referendum for now.

See what stakeholders have to say

When a referendum is on the table, you have to consider how various stakeholders might feel about it. Analyze whether your proposed referendum would align with stakeholders’ interests. A referendum might be a good idea if you’re confident that most of the community will support it.

On the other hand, your referendum might elicit mixed responses. One half might be for it, and the other half might be against it. You don’t want to win a referendum by 51 percent. You want it to win by a landslide. If you’re not very confident in the referendum’s approval rate, it might be best to look for a different solution.

Consider its impact on the community

The purpose of a referendum is to improve the quality of public education. However, students aren’t the only people affected by a referendum. You have to consider how it will impact the community as a whole. A referendum could be the best solution if it offers benefits to various groups, even those who aren’t directly involved with the district.

Despite its benefits, you also have to factor in potential negative effects on the community. A referendum wouldn’t be the best idea if it improves education while compromising the position of your stakeholders.

A referendum isn’t inherently right or wrong. It all comes down to the unique circumstances of your district and broader community. A referendum might be the answer, or it might not. Current resources, stakeholder opinions and potential impacts will guide you to the right solution.

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