Northwest Florida’s Escambia County School District was one of only a handful of districts in the state which still elected their Superintendent of Schools. We worked with a coalition of business leaders and education advocates to reverse public opinion and win a hard-fought ballot measure for a professional, appointed school superintendent.
Shift in public opinion from communications, strategy, and field.
Margin on Election Day to win the ballot measure.
Students with a brighter future under professional leadership.
Most school districts in Florida followed the national model of having credentialed, professional educators as school superintendents, appointed by elected school board members. Escambia County had rebuffed previous efforts to move to so, with voters claiming they wanted to have “their say” in electing their schools chief. This also meant the selection process was based on political campaigning and patronage, not merit or even educational attainment.
Business leaders, fed up with struggling schools, successfully advocated to put the question of a political election or professional appointment of superintendent to voters. Unfortunately, moving the levers of power to place an amendment on the ballot was easier than moving public opinion. The challenge now was to win that ballot measure, which early polling suggested was a 16-point underdog, with 53% of voters opposing it and 37% supporting it.
While the polling showed a strong inclination for the status quo, it also showed that our primary message that an appointed superintendent would help each child and each school, not just the politically-favored schools or neighborhoods, was a message that worked.
We also saw from our research that voter support for the ballot measure broke down along “parents” (voters under 50), “empty-nesters” (voters 50-65) and “grandparents” (voters over 65). Interestingly enough, empty-nesters were least likely to respond to our messaging, while parents of school-aged children, and grandparents of school-aged children, were very receptive.
Additionally, this ballot measure was one of a dozen state and local questions asked of voters, in addition to the regular statewide slate of candidates. We knew that we had to keep our voters from succumbing to “ballot fatigue,” so our field campaign pushed voters to “stay on the ballot” at key polling places during early voting and Election Day.
Through direct mail, digital advertising, a strong public-relations campaign, and an incredible field organizing effort, the Yes for Escambia campaign was able to close the gap and squeak out a win, capturing 50.3% of the votes cast.
Our communications strategy worked to close the gap, and our grassroots field effort on Election Day persuaded just enough voters to power through the 3-4 page ballot and support our ballot measure.
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