During the summer of 2022, the Sherwood School District’s new interim superintendent and new chief financial officer found that the previous leadership had overestimated revenue from the state and the district was using reserves to cover costs. This information was brought to the School Board, outside financial consultants were hired to review the situation and propose recommendations, and law enforcement was asked to investigate if any criminal acts were committed. (Local, county, and state investigations later found no criminal acts were committed.) Immediate cost saving measures were implemented for the 2022-2023 school year – not filling a few vacant positions, adding furlough days, and reducing administrative staff.
The consultant’s recommendations included changes to the accounting and review process, adding more checks and balances, as well as transparency. For the long term, it was recommended that the Board put a local education levy before the voters in May 2023. While Sherwood had asked voters in the past to consider a levy, one had never been approved. Polling in January 2023 showed that only 43% supported a levy, 36% opposed, and 20% were undecided.
To add to the challenge, in 2016, Sherwood passed a school bond to build a new high school and make security upgrades to the other schools. Voter confusion surrounding bond versus levy, inflation, mistrust of elected officials, and three of five school board positions up for election, all added to the challenges of passing a new levy.
In February 2023, the School Board voted to place a $1.50 per $1,000 assessed value levy on the May ballot – a funding level which would only maintain existing programs. Pac/West was retained to run a ballot measure campaign to gain support from the community for the school levy. We developed a multi-faceted approach and budget options that relied on both paid and volunteer activities – website, social media, voter pamphlet statements, direct mail, lawn signs, digital ads, print ads, canvassing, phone/text banking, community events, earned media, editorial board, and endorsements.
First, the campaign needed to explain the need for the levy and be transparent about the role the revenue error played in the financial crisis facing the district. Using printed canvassing handbills, social media, story news, and letters to the editor, we laid the foundation for the campaign.
As with any ballot measure, especially in a state that uses vote by mail, direct mail is a highly effective campaign tool. We produced four mail pieces that were strategically timed to arrive in voter mailboxes:
- The real culprit is chronically underfunded schools! – day after voter pamphlets arrived
- Sherwood is known for its commitment to education… – day after ballots arrived
- High quality schools & home values are linked. – two weeks before election day
- Endorsements-Vote – one week before election day
Social media plays an important role in all campaigns, especially with local elections. Our campaign had robust Facebook and Instagram efforts – strategically linked to canvassing, earned media, mail, and community events. Our campaign volunteers helped respond to questions and comments posted on social media, sticking to key message points, and sharing posts on their personal accounts. We also used social media to profile members of the community who had personal stories involving the importance of the levy. In the final four weeks of the campaign, our posts reached over 16,000 and had nearly 13,000 engagements.
The digital awareness campaign was implemented for three weeks and resulted in over 1.4 million impressions delivered and 4,900 unique user visits to the campaign website.
When the final votes were tallied, the levy passed with a strong 58.0% to 42.0%, with a turnout of 49%. 900 individuals voted for the levy, who didn’t cast votes in the school board races. When compared to state-wide turnout of just 26%, Pac/West proved that even against tough odds – including fiscal errors, inflation, and distrust of government – a strategic, multi-faceted and well-managed campaign will always prove to be successful.