Elementary school building and black top
Case Study

Public school district passes referendum to improve building needs and support students and community with survey data and targeting tools

How North Branch Area Public Schools increased voter turnout and executed a successful election.
Elementary school building and black top
Case Study

Public school district passes referendum to improve building needs and support students and community with survey data and targeting tools

How North Branch Area Public Schools increased voter turnout and executed a successful election.

Client background

On May 24, 2016, voters in the North Branch Area Public Schools (a K-12 school district in Minnesota with about 20,000 residents) cast their ballots for or against a proposal to issue $62.1 million in new debt to fund various school district building proposals. The proposal included projects to improve operational efficiency, safety and security, traffic patterns, facilities for student and community activities and upgrades to support learning and instruction. Having lost 10 of the last 12 referenda ballot questions since 1998, the district was hopeful to pass this referendum because they could offer a zero tax-increase, as the election took place just as old debt was scheduled to retire.

The organization’s challenge

The 2016 referendum came short of the required 50% plus one needed for approval by just 125 votes. In the following months, North Branch’s superintendent, Deb Henton, and the school board began a year-long effort to analyze the post-election results and build a foundation to support future positive outcomes. The school building needs were not going away and the district needed to strategize on how to support students, staff and the community.

The Baker Tilly approach

Baker Tilly’s referendum specialists collaborated with North Branch to analyze demographics and survey residents to better understand the community’s voters and develop a strategy to inform ballot questions. We also helped the district leverage Frontline Education’s (formerly GuideK12 and Forecast5) geovisual planning tool to map its voter targets to support voter canvassing and “get out the vote.”

The organizational impact

A year later in May 2017, North Branch was armed with better data from both a feasibility survey of voters who participated in the 2016 referendum, demographic results of a post-election analysis and use of both demographic and predictive databases to develop a voter target structure for the campaign.

Based on survey results, the school board broke the proposal up into three ballot questions totaling $70 million. By using key data and research tools and taking a strategic approach to its referendum, the district won all three ballot questions. While the community and district demographics did not change in a year, the election turnout improved significantly:

  • Turnout among young parents (18-40 years old) was 35.6%, a 79% improvement over the 2016 ballot defeat
  • Turnout among all parents was 39.4%, a 46% improvement from the previous year’s election
  • The campaign achieved a turnout of 54.7% for its top two identified “yes” voter target groups, compared to a 24% turnout overall
  • The campaign targeted and turned out 759 early voters, compared to only 122 in the failed election

For more information or to learn how Baker Tilly's public sector team can help your school district pass a referendum, contact our team.

Don E. Lifto
Director, Ph.D.
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