If at First You Don’t Succeed …
When school districts need more money, they ask their voters, right?
Well, that’s the idea. But, in some instances, it might be more of a demand. If a school district fails to pass a proposed tax levy, it can go back on the ballot in the next election. So, if a district is persistent, odds are it’ll get passed eventually.
According to Kelli Hopkins, an attorney and director of education policy for the Missouri School Boards Association, there are no limits on how many times a bond issue or tax levy proposal can be put on the ballot, though they do require different majorities to pass in different months.
So, is it a common tactic to wear down voters and use brute force to pass financial issues?
Happily, the answer is no.
But some districts do try. Bucklin R-2 School District put the same 60-cent tax levy on the ballot in three nearly consecutive elections: April 2001, August 2001, and April 2002 (oddly enough, skipping the November election — perhaps because, as Audrey indicated in her last post, financial issues may be less likely to pass in November — or, as a reader commented, because of the higher cost involved in putting an issue on the ballot during that month).
The tax levy failed all three times, and Bucklin gave up.
Maries County R-1 School District‘s proposed tax levy faced a similar rejection by voters. In August 2001, voters said no to a 35-cent increase. The district tried again in April 2002, with a more modest 25-cent increase. It, too, failed. The same 25-cent proposal failed in August 2002, and the district gave up.
So, does it ever work?
Well, maybe. Jackson R-2 School District was able to pass a tax levy increase. But only after giving voters a year off. A 40-cent increase was put on the ballot and rejected in April and August 2000. A 25-cent increase was rejected in August 2001. In 2002, the district backed off. Then, in November 2003, it was able to get voters to approve a 35-cent increase.
In light of the year off, it hardly seems like this was a case of hitting voters repeatedly with the same issue. The district’s situation could have changed in the year off, making the 35-cent increase more acceptable to voters. The fact that it passed probably had little to do with the first three attempts.
The case of Bayless School District looks more promising. A 50-cent increase failed in April 2000, followed by the failure of a 75-cent increase in November that same year. Then, in February 2001, the 75-cent increase was passed by voters.
All in all, this would be the more likely candidate, but because the amount changed, the circumstances may have, too. I can’t say with certainty that this entailed forcing a financial issue. After all, if a school district is doing its job, it listens when voters say no. And then it negotiates between elections. So, the ballot language and the content of the actual tax levy proposal may be different the second or third time around. It could be that Bayless simply listened to its voters and made the appropriate changes to get the levy passed.
Even so, it’s likely the brute-force tactic is sometimes used. But the more common strategy is simply to decrease the amount asked for. Either way, the bottom line remains the same: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
If you have any questions or insights about success rates of financial issues, please leave a comment below or feel free to email me.