What To Do When Politics and Schools Mix

Schools don't want to be political but sometimes find themselves in that area. The fact is, at last count, more than 20 states now require some form of public action -- ie: ballot issue approval by voters -- to fund schools.

Usually these actions take the form of voted property and income taxes, and some states, like Ohio which many states are using as a model, require that existing taxes be renewed periodically.

Tax issues are a touchy subject across the electorate. With ideology and partisanship at tense highs these days, what should you do if a political party, political entity or special interest group wants to help or endorse your tax issue? Should you do it?

There are numerous scenarios that may arise but here are some rules of the road that have helped some local school tax campaigns.

1. Lending Support. When a political entity or other special interest group wishes to support, ask that such support be made in the form of an endorsement that will be "marketed" to the e-mail lists maintained by the campaign.

2. Balance. Balance is important. If the local party supports the tax issue, efforts should be made to enlist the other to support as well.

3. Clearly identify the support. With any tax issue requests, be sure to clearly identify who is funding that outreach, whether it's a robo call, email or mailing.

4. Letter of support. Often, a letter of support from a leading figure in the community has high impact, especially if the person is known to be skeptical about taxes and public spending. If the pro-tax person is known to be a strong conservative, say that. Have him/her note that, "Usually I oppose taxes but this issue is different. For our community, for our children, we must pass Issue 22."

5. Support across the political spectrum. If support exists on both sides of the political landscape, consider doing a direct mail piece targeted to swing voters that shows a photo of well-known people on both sides of the aisle who press the theme of, "We may not agree on a lot of things, but one thing we all support is our schools."

Above all, keep in mind that in almost every district, parents and staff no longer comprise a majority of the voters. The days are gone when you can simply count on your supporters to put you over the 50 percent + 1 threshold. Getting broad-based support is vital.