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Billion dollar ballot question passes after decade of failure

Case Study: Washoe County School District Capital Funding Campaign

The Washoe County School District (64,000 students; largest employer in the county, top 1% of school districts by size in the country) faced a capital funding shortfall of close to a billion dollars over ten years. Many efforts had been tried over the prior 15 years to raise this funding, and all had failed. Riley was brought on specifically to be the point person for solving this issue. 

First, he helped shepherd a bill through the legislature that formed a community committee to write a ballot question. Then helped move that committee through the process of writing the ballot question (a tax increase), and finally, ran the internal PR and communications efforts that helped move the issue from polling dead in the water in April (under 50% support after message testing) to a win with 57% in November.

This was accomplished through a relentless focus on creating opportunities for parent and media engagement on the critical overcrowding and repair needs that plagued the district. It involved creating the messaging and presentation, then training some 40 members of the district’s leadership team to give the presentation to families and staff at the 93 schools across the county; creating and promoting a website to show what the needs were over ten years; scheduling and executing well over 100 community presentations to everything from Rotary Clubs to five parents in a living room; holding media tours and briefings; and above all, translating complex issues of capital funding, bonding capacity, enrollment growth projections, and district policies into simple and meaningful language and messaging to communicate in concrete terms what the future was for students and the community with and without the passage of the ballot question.