In 2010, the Charleston Trident Association of REALTORS® (CTAR) in South Carolina was faced with a difficult decision. Should they support tax increases to fund infrastructure improvements to local schools? And which of two proposals should they support? The first called for a one-cent sales tax over six years. The second--approved by the school district--called for an increase in property taxes. Before taking a position, CTAR decided to find out more about public sentiment on the issue. They contacted the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) for assistance in commissioning a poll to gauge public support for both proposals. The results were clear: the public opposed a property tax increase and supported the sales tax proposal. CTAR then stepped forward to lead a successful campaign to support the six-year, one-penny sales increase that would generate an estimated $450 million for infrastructure improvements. The money would go toward the construction of 14 new schools, four school renovations, three land acquisitions for school development, seismic evaluations for six school building, design plans for one school, and improvement of athletic facilities at existing schools. “Thanks to polling services provided by NAR, we won our referendum battle against a property tax increase,” says Ryan Castle, government affairs director for CTAR.
School districts around the country face issues related to how to improve schools while minimizing the tax impact on area citizens. And REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations are often compelled to take a stand. “Good schools unify and define communities,” says Philip Matricardi, former vice president for governmental and public affairs at the Seattle-King County Association of REALTORS® (SKCAR) in Washington State. In 2005, two funding measures for the Auburn School District were proposed--one to relieve overcrowding in elementary schools districtwide, another to provide funding for technology improvements and upgrades. Neither measure--a bond and a replacement levy--meant raising property taxes. SKCAR threw its support behind both ballot propositions and encouraged its membership to get involved and to get out the vote. But before doing so, Matricardi did his homework, researching levels of achievement in the schools and the district’s record in terms of managing school construction and financing projects.
Through advocacy, REALTOR® associations can serve as strong voices that help inspire improvements in public schools. For example, the Sarasota Association of REALTORS® (SAR) has supported a series of ballot initiatives for school financing that were critical for their local schools. Because of past RPAC contributions, SAR was able to tap into RPAC funding to provide $10,000 to a committee formed in support of a local referendum. In Nevada, the Washoe County School District trustees and superintendent have pushed forward significant reform measures to target student performance, and the Reno/Sparks Association of REALTORS® has been actively engaged in supporting both reform measures and trustees seeking reelection. REALTORS® can also play a role. Jim Johnson of Houston, Texas, is not only actively involved in his granddaughter’s local elementary school but also has worked on a variety of projects and issues at the district level. For example, he served on a committee to adjust elementary school attendance boundaries in order to accommodate the 2011 opening of a new elementary school. NAR can provide significant support on advocacy issues--to help REALTORS® make a difference in their local communities.
The NAR REALTOR® Party Hub1
The “Hub” is a comprehensive, web-based, grassroots communication system for online member outreach, engagement, and mobilization. Associations can use it to send local Calls for Action to get members to contact a local or state official or state representative to support a school issue. The system includes information about a member’s voting history, party affiliation, and voter-registration status.
NAR’s Campaign Services Program2
This program makes it possible for a state or local REALTOR® association to obtain useful demographic information from voter records, such as vote history, age, and homeowner status. Outside consulting services are also available to associations who require assistance with identifying voter groups they want to target for communications to advocate for an issue--such as supporting school infrastructure improvements or advancing reform measures in a local school district.
NAR’s Issues Mobilization Program3
State and local REALTOR® associations can use this program to organize and manage effective issue campaigns that benefit and promote REALTOR® public policy. It’s designed to provide requesting REALTOR® associations with financial, technical, and/or educational assistance to help advance their issue campaigns. For example, the program would pay for such activities as conducting a public opinion poll on a school siting issue or targeting public communications to help pass a school ballot measure supported by the REALTORS®.
NAR’s Land Use Initiative4
If your state or local REALTOR® association needs an analysis of pending local land-use regulations and ordinances, use this free-of-charge service. It will help you craft your association’s response to a proposed local regulation or ordinance (for example, a school impact fee) that may affect area schools and real estate transactions--and help you respond in a way that best supports your members.
NAR’s Smart Growth Grant5
This grant provides seed funding to REALTOR® associations to initiate efforts to engage in local land use issues, including school siting and construction, with other stakeholders and elected officials.
REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations advocate for a broad range of school-related issues. See the articles in Issues in Public Education, including “How Schools Are Funded.”