Long before Palo Alto's school board voted in February to put a $378 million bond measure on the June 3 ballot, a small group of parents was laying groundwork to convince citizens to vote "yes."
They met with district officials to offer their services, established contacts at schools and even picked out a name for their efforts.
Now, with just 10 weeks to go until the election, the "Strong Schools for a Strong Community" committee is leading a full-swing campaign in support of Measure A -- even before the official April 13 kick-off party.
Led by four co-chairs, including former school board President Mandy Lowell, the group is reaching out to the school and local community, she said.
The mostly volunteer effort is driven by the belief that the bond measure is crucial to upgrade facilities at Palo Alto's aging, cramped schools, she said.
Opposition so far has been limited to Palo Altan Wayne Martin, a longtime opponent of tax measures, and a San Jose-based group of libertarians.
To win, 55 percent of voters need to approve the measure under state Proposition 39.
Lowell said that so far the pro-measure committee has met with the city's Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, winning endorsements from each.
The group's Web site is up and running, meaning the four co-chairs answer dozens of e-mails daily about the bond measure, she said.
One or two boosters per school site have been established to help get the word out, Co-volunteer Coordinator Nancy Shepherd said.
And the committee has contracted Oakland-based political consultant Larry Tramutola to advise on grassroots tactics such as effective brochure mailing, committee Co-chair Jon Foster said.
Tramutola also consulted for the successful $143 million school-bond Measure B in 1995.
A campaign strong point is that the new measure will not increase property taxes. It would continue Measure B's $44.50 tax per $100,000 in assessed property valuation. Measure A will raise an estimated $378 million over the life of the bonds.
Depending on how quickly property values rise, the tax could extend until 2042, Golton said.
Foster said this year's committee hopes to raise $100,000 to pay mainly for mailings and Tramutola's fee.
Campaign-finance statements released this week show the group has raised $6,465 so far, including a $5,000 donation from Lowell. It's the most she's ever given and is not meant as an attention-grabbing gesture, Lowell said -- it was just to help with start-up supplies and lawn signs.
Foster, who also campaigned for the winning $493 parcel tax in 2005, said he and Co-chair Samir Tuma met with schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly as early as summer to volunteer to lead a campaign. The parcel tax can be used for operating costs and salaries but the bond measure is restricted to buildings and facilities.
They continued to meet with Skelly and Chief Business Official Bob Golton throughout the fall to learn more about how the district planned to handle the bond measure, he said.
By law, the school district cannot spend taxpayer money on a political campaign. It can only send out informational fliers.
Months of school-district efforts -- including meetings at school sites to draft possible project lists for the bond measure -- ended with the board's Feb. 26 approval to place the measure on the ballot.
The work to get the measure passed now lies with the citizens' committee, Foster said.
And all the committee has done until now is mere preparation for a massive push in April and May to reach citizens -- including phone banks and mailings, he said.
Yet opposition to the bond measure is also gearing up.
An anti-bond measure statement was filed with the county registrar of voters this month by Allen Rice, treasurer of the San Jose-based Willow Glen Libertarian Alliance, and Martin.
Martin actively campaigned against the 2005 parcel tax.
The statement accused the district of failing to follow Proposition 39's requirement to detail what the funds would be used for by not listing specific projects at specific schools for specific amounts of money.
Rice also filed an identical argument against the Fremont Union High School District's proposed June bond measure.
Martin is starting a "Palo Altans Against Measure A" campaign, he said this week.
The group will soon have a Web site up, produce fliers and go door-to-door, he said.
The anti-bond-measure campaign will run a tight, responsible budget, he said, declining to cite a figure. The group has not yet filed finance statements with the county.
In response to Rice's and Martin's arguments, Foster said the school district can't peg prices to projects in the official ballot statement because costs will fluctuate in coming years. Of the $378 million, the district predicts it can manage about $30 million of work annually, he said. He said bonds will not be issued until needed to pay for construction-related costs.
Yet there is an unofficial list of projects and costs, he said, referring to the document the district prepared after many school meetings in fall.
Besides, all projects will be voted on by the school board at public meetings, he said -- echoing the committee's rebuttal to Rice's and Martin's statement.
Rice and Martin also questioned how cronyism would be avoided in forming the citizens' oversight committee required by Proposition 39.
State law that prevents employees, vendors or consultants from serving and dictates which sorts of stakeholders will serve should prevent such favoritism, the pro-measure rebuttal states.
Enthusiastic as they are, the pro-measure volunteers are by no means political groupies, they said.
"In some ways we're scrambling because we're parents" or working full-time jobs, Lowell said.
And committee Co-chair Kathy Schroeder called campaigning a "necessary evil."
"It's the democratic process in all of its detail," she said.