Chris Buchignani and Betsy Whitman never thought they’d be working together.
The two are separated by an age gap and political affiliation and run in different circles.
But now they are united for a common cause — helping State College Area School District pass its tax referendum. The duo started a group called Friends of State High to raise money and advocate for a yes vote on the May 20 referendum, which will ask voters to approve an $85 million debt to go toward a $115 million high school project.
A successful referendum would result in a tax increase of about $190 per year for the average homeowner.
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Buchignani and Whitman have both worked on political campaigns in the past and are now drawing on that experience as they hit the pavement, knock on doors and distribute literature to educate people about the need for a new high school.
Buchignani said he was sold on the project when he saw the process. He was impressed that the school board considered all options and put out a comprehensive community survey. That swayed him to be heavily in favor of the project that would include major renovations and new construction on the Westerly Parkway campus’ South Building.
“I am so genuinely impressed with the level of time and commitment that the board has invested into knowing this project and knowing the arguments for it,” he said.
The district can’t put any money toward advocating for people to vote yes on the referendum question, but Friends of State High can. The group is distributing literature and selling buttons that ask voters to approve the referendum.
Friends of State High is a seven-person volunteer effort that includes canvassing and individual door-to-door interaction with voters. Buchignani said the volunteers have visited about 1,000 houses so far, mostly working on weekends, and they will follow up those conversations with phone calls or mailers as the date approaches.
He said the volunteers also gauge the receptiveness of the voters to potentially vote yes on the referendum and he’s been happy that a good number of them spoke positively about it.
The group does not work closely with the district because the two are not affiliated. Neither side wants any confusion as to whether the district is contributing money toward the campaign — because it isn’t.
But Superintendent Bob O’Donnell is happy that people are helping with the effort.
“It’s impressive to know that community members think highly of education as well as this need,” he said of the new facility.
The district will also continue to ramp up its efforts to educate voters on the project and process.
O’Donnell said they have attended more than 25 outreach efforts in the past two weeks, going to visit groups and people at their homes or offices.
He added that it’s encouraging to hear that people decided to be in favor of the project after seeing the process. He said they worked hard to get the best possible proposal to the table.
Friends of State High will also continue its efforts to raise money and talk to voters.
Anyone interest in volunteering or donating can contact the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.