BOSCOBEL - The results are in: Boscobel residents generally support the school district’s efforts to raise taxes for school improvements. This according to a recent survey conducted by consultants at School Perceptions, a research firm assisting the district in its referendum effort.
“This tells me your community is recognizing that there are some things you need to do to your schools in order to keep them in good working condition, and that something is going to need to be done with your facilities,” said Dr. Rob DeMeuse, Research Director and Project Manager at School Perceptions.
The survey, completed in late December, was intended to gauge community support for closing one or more of the district’s aging structures and consolidating, in phases, into one facility at the middle/high school. Voters will decide on a referendum to raise tax rates to pay for the changes at the spring election on Tuesday, April 4.
Survey results were presented to the district school board at its January 9 meeting.
Long time planning
The plan to consolidate the elementary, middle, and high schools into one building has been in the works for at least seven years and has included one referendum that failed to garner votes to pass.
This time around, the district is proposing a phased approach. “Just like my house, I know that I also have to prioritize my priorities,” said DeMeuse. “There is no way that I can tackle everything at one time.”
The survey was designed to gather the citizen’s priorities for those phases, which include seven projects ranging from new classrooms at the middle/high, closing the rock school, adding a gymnasium, and various upgrades and repairs. (See graph above.)
Not surprisingly, support for spending was strongest among staff and parents of students at the school, according to the survey: 48 percent of parents and 62 percent of staff responded that they would support a referendum for $31 million—the maximum amount to cover all seven phases.
“Non-parents/non-staff,” who make up 75 percent of the voters, took a more conservative view. Just 22 percent of this group responded in favor of the entire $31 million price tag; 18 percent would not support any referendum.
DeMeuse crunched the numbers to gauge overall support among all voters for the bottom-line support for a tax hike. “That’s the most important question,” he said. “How much of a tax increase are you willing to stomach in order to see the project that you support to come to fruition?”
According to this survey, 38.5 percent of Boscobel voters would support $26 million; 54.0 percent are good with $21 million; and 65.8 percent, a strong majority, would give thumbs up to $16 million.
The survey had a 16 percent response rate and a margin of error of plus or minus 5.25 percent.
Which comes first?
When it comes to which projects take priority, there was a general consensus: all survey respondents agreed that upgrading the major building systems and building new classrooms at the middle/high school were most important.
When it comes to building an additional gymnasium, however, the vote was split. Parents and staff rated the new gym a top priority; the “non-staff/non-parent” group ranked it dead last.
Board members chalked this up as a misperception on the part of those who don’t actually use the school. “Non-parents, non-staff, when they look at a gym, they look at it as a sporting thing, whereas we look at it as a classroom,” said board member Kim Trumm. “It’s not just for sporting events, and we actually need that classroom as well as the gym space.”
Board members expressed concern that moving two additional grades into the outdated gymnasium would overburden scheduling for classroom and extracurricular activities, both.
Other survey questions addressed overall perceptions of the school’s performance, and in this department, the school got some welcome support.
A healthy majority of those surveyed believed the school was doing a “good” or “great” job of delivering high-quality education, communicating with the public, managing funds responsibly and building pride in the community. Nearly 60 percent said they would recommend the district to a friend or family member.
The district’s Facility Advisory Committee, formed last year to guide the referendum process, will meet on January 11 to discuss the survey results and craft language for the April referendum.
A special school board meeting, open to the public, will take place on January 16 to discuss and vote on the committee’s recommendation.
The final deadline for submitting the referendum language to elections officials comes on January 25.