Discussing passing a $230 million bond issue with Upper Arlington’s Paul Imhoff

Host Joel Gagne is joined by Paul Imhoff, the superintendent of Upper Arlington Schools in Ohio just outside of Columbus, which recently passed a $230 million bond issue.

Paul and Joel discuss the proactive steps taken to effectively communicate the district’s needs, and how Upper Arlington Schools ended up landing the resources required to serve students. The sizable request works out to about $100 a month for the average taxpayer and included $140 million for a new high school, which is the largest such project in the history of the state.

Joel notes most successful campaigns are at least a year long, and often two years long. Paul and Joel credit Upper Arlington’s three-year effort as being part of the reason the district got so much support within the community.

Paul says the effort to garner support for the bond issue started with the district’s most recent three-year strategic plan, which focused on efficiency. Upper Arlington Schools created a team of business leaders to make recommendations that would carry weight.

“And one of those recommendations to us, now three years ago, was to put together a facilities master-planning process as soon as possible,” Paul says.

The district’s buildings are on average over 60 years old, meaning the cost for building upkeep isn’t practical. But the community overwhelmingly “thought the facilities were great,” according to the initial polls. Paul says getting a professional survey administered by an opinion research company was critical in understanding the best way to engage the Upper Arlington community.

“I have every belief that if we put this on the ballot then that we would have lost and we would have lost in a major fashion,” he says.

Paul talks about how intensive the process was, as he personally attended 175 meetings in residents’ homes.

“I believe community engagement has never been more difficult than it is now,” he says. “And community engagement is not offering a series of meetings and whoever shows up you say you’ve got their voice and you move on. Community engagement is just a grind.”

Paul says the success of the bond issue can be at least partially attributed to early voting.

“We truly believed that for us the key was to get every possible person to come out and vote,” Paul says. “So for us, our plan was really one of mobilization. People already knew if they were for it or against it, we just wanted to make sure every possible person voted. The only way to be 100 percent sure you get out was to get out early.”

Read about the full We Love Schools podcast episode about how Upper Arlington successfully passed a $230 million bond issue. 

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