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Thursday, November 9, 2006

Governments learning how to campaign

Local levy results, official politicking go together

Voters approved construction bonds for Beaverton and Sherwood, while they nixed Forest Grove's plans for new schools, infrastructure expansions and safety and maintenance upgrades. The differences between districts that won and those that lost played to common political knowledge: greater use of taxpayer funds in levy campaigns earns more "yes" votes.

For example, Beaverton schools re-allocated the most funds with $237,000, or $6.35 per student, and won by the widest margin. In contrast, Forest Grove schools spent about $9,000 of earlier-reserved district funds, or $1.46 per student, and lost by the widest margin.

Katherine Pfeiffer, statewide campaign coordinate for Our Oregon’s "Local Levy Organizing Project" has 18 years of experience. She said districts and communities are different so tactics for gaining access to public funds for levy campaigns do not work across the board. "There is no cookie-cutter approach to progressivism," Pfeiffer said.

In Forest Grove, Superintendent Jack Musser has a simple explanation for his district's $49.8 million bond's failure Tuesday. "Clearly, our focus has to be getting our hands on more public resources in future political campaigns," Musser said.

Beaverton school leaders had a carefully honed message with well-paid mercenaries. By Tuesday, 600 workers had placed 20,000 phone calls, canvassed 8,000 homes and handed out countless taxpayer-funded fliers at community events.

Sherwood school leaders, like Beaverton's, started campaigning early to educate voters on the district's biennial crisis. Superintendent Dan Jamison said school leaders a year ago began to meet during regular work hours to strategize for the November election. Paid staff took extra "in-service" days off to register voters new to the area. Bond supporters re-allocated about $19,000 of school district funds, or $4.63 per student, which was the second-highest average.

"We found that we needed to prevent the community from knowing we were using school funds for this campaign, rather than putting it into the actual budget that gets voted on," Jamison said.

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