Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Education

First Advisor

Rajeswari Swaminathan

Committee Members

William Kritek, Elise Frattura, Thomas Joynt


Bond, Referenda, Referendum, School Bond


In April 2008, the Wisconsin Erie School District attempted and failed to pass a school bond referendum to renovate its high school. In November 2008, again the school district did not pass a referendum. Interestingly, in the 2009-2010 school year, the district was successful in passing a bond referendum. Although the original bond measure called for $45,600,000, the final measure passed a bond of $35,190,000. All of these referenda attempts occurred within an economic context of national and statewide recession. Since school referenda are mechanisms for communities to voice their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with schools through voting for or against the measure, this study explores how a community go from dissatisfaction to approval of a similar bond referenda. Through interviewing participants, examining district archival records, and analyzing 179 Erie newspaper articles reporting on the Erie referenda, this study answers: How do the participants describe their perceptions of the interventions and surrounding factors that led the Erie School District to the failure and eventual success in passing a school bond referendum in the real-life context of their community? What can we learn from the Erie participants’ descriptions and explanations of a school district’s bond referenda journey? This study utilizes Piele and Hall’s (1973) research to organize the factors and characteristics that affect bond referenda into three determinants: environmental, socioeconomic, and psychological. The environmental determinants that were found significant in this study were: election characteristics, information factors, and communication factors. The socioeconomic determinants that were found significant in this study were: status of the economy, tax impact, fiscal referenda incentives, personal communication, framing referenda from a needs perceptive, and positive public relations factors. The psychological determinants that were found significant in this study were: attitudes towards taxes, community involvement, and school officials. The implications for practice found in this study are: policy makers should commit to financially motivating school districts to renovate and repair; school leaders should seek out financial stimulus opportunities and frame their referenda measure as a savings opportunity; school districts should encourage a pro-referenda community group; school districts should analyze and incorporate the opposition; school districts should understand needs versus wants; and school districts should understand their own communal perception of hiring a consultant.