Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Bass, Abraham Z.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Journalism


Schools--Public relations; Education--Illinois--Elgin--Finance


The problem studied was a marked decline in funding support for public education in the United States, with a special focus on one northern Illinois school system, Unit District 46, Elgin, Illinois. Evidence for the widespread decline has been suggested by national polls measuring levels of public satisfaction with the schools. Evidence also has been cited in education literature documenting repeated failure of school districts to pass tax increase referenda. Possible reasons for the decline in support were examined. They included potentially unrealistic expectations for the schools; increased state and federal mandates without corresponding funding support; a perceived decline in the quality of teaching and in the competency of teachers; a perceived "watering down" of curricula and a laxity in discipiine; and an "aging" of the population that has resulted in a declining ratio of parents (traditionally school supporters) to the population at large. New communication strategies by some school districts to win back public support were reviewed. They included highly visible program cuts, initiation of competency testing for students and teachers, and efforts to gain broad-based community support. The new methods -- particu larly "cross-pressuring" "no" voters into remaining neutral -- run counter to traditional school public relations theories, which usually have called for low-key campaigns with small voter turnouts. After a review of these strategies, research for this study focused on the Elgin school district. Specifically, unsuccessful efforts by the system to pass tax increase referenda in 1978, 1979 and 1980 were examined. In an attempt to find out what went wrong with the efforts, ten key individuals from the community were inter viewed in depth. They included representatives from the school administration, school board, business community, teacher's organization, referendum opposition, parents and citizens at large, plus spokespersons for the print and broadcast media. The interviewees were asked to hypothesize why the referenda failed. They were also asked what could be done to plan a successful tax referendum in the future. A summary of recommendations from those interviewed was compiled. Literature on successful persuasion techniques from the social sciences was then reviewed for possible relevance to the Elgin school district's situation. Recommendations to school supporters -- and to media supportive of the schools -- were then developed. Among the recommendations were suggestions to: utilize public opinion leaders; get broad-based community input on the referendum decision itself; emphasize an emotional campaign, rather than merely relying on a factual presentation; and cross-pressure opponents, including senior citizens and parents of parochial school students, with arguments supportive of their values. The district was also advised to: develop persuasive arguments specific to each audience addressed; acknowledge opposing arguments with audiences that are dominantly opposed; recommend an amount for the tax increase that is sensitive to financial pressures on parents and other traditional "yes" voters; mobilize minority support, stressing benefits to minorities from the existing school program; cite specific, visible cuts that will be made if the referendum fails; and follow through on those cuts.


Bibliography : pages 107-110.


vi, 127 pages




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