Rolla Public Schools supporters, if faced with a ballot question, would be more likely to vote to spend money on the district's use of technology for students and staff than for either an expanded early childhood education program or a high school auditorium.
That's the finding of a survey of 375 registered voters picked at random by a professional polling company for a series of questions asked from late April to the middle of May.
"You are at a great starting point for conversation," Ken DeSieghardt, of Patron Insight Inc., told the Rolla Board of Education June 13 in his presentation of the key findings of Patron Insight's surveyors.
School board members and administrators agreed much conversation will be needed, not only with patrons but among themselves. There will very likely be a workshop in the fall, perhaps in October, to talk about this after board members digest the 53-page document presented to them by DeSieghardt.
"I think we've got a lot of homework to do," one said.
The board's interest in learning how willing voters would be to support an early childhood center is indicated by the number of "findings" related to that topic. Three of the seven findings in the Patron Insight survey report have to do with the possibility of an early childhood center. (See Findings 3, 4 and 5 in related story.)
The pollsters discovered the ranking of the three long-range needs by asking the 375 registered voters to describe the projects as "very," "somewhat," "not very" or "not at all" important.
Updating student and staff technology was either very or somewhat important to 80 percent of the voters.
Constructing an auditorium was important to 76 percent and offering a full-service early childhood education program was important to 71 percent.
The pollsters then asked voters how likely they would be to vote if faced with a bond issue on one of these three projects.
Voters were 60 percent "more likely to vote in favor" of updating technology and 7 percent were "more likely to vote against" it. The other option was "make no difference."
Forty-two percent said they would vote for an early childhood education program while 31 percent said they would vote against it.
Just 28 percent were likely to vote for an auditorium at Rolla High School and 24 percent would probably vote against it.
Then, during the survey, the Patron Insight pollsters asked the Rolla school voters this long question: "I have just a couple more questions about the full-service Early Childhood Education program idea. The district has two alternatives for how it might offer such a program. One would be to offer it in a stand-alone building that would be built just for that purpose. The other option would be for the district to renovate one of its current elementary schools to become the home of the Early Childhood Education program — and only the Early Childhood Program. The other two elementary schools would then become what are called graded centers, meaning that all students from across the district in certain elementary grades — such as first and second grade — would attend school in the same building, rather than different buildings, and then they would all move on to the next building together as they got older. As the district considers which options would be best for students, families and the Rolla community in general, which one do you prefer — the standalone facility or renovating one elementary school to become the Early Childhood Education Center and then changing the other elementary schools to graded centers."
Page 2 of 4 - To the amazement of board members, only 21 percent of the voters said they would prefer a standalone center while 44 percent said they would rather see one of the current schools — Mark Twain, Wyman or Truman elementary schools — turned into an Early Childhood Education Center and the other two turned into graded centers.
Board members were amazed because Rolla school patrons have traditionally preferred the three neighborhood schools. When boundary changes are required to even out the pupil populations in the three schools, parents often object if their children must attend a different school. This survey indicates that a plurality, though not a majority, of voters would be willing to do away with tradition.
Then, the pollsters asked the 44 percent (78 voters) who prefer a standalone center how likely they would be to vote for a bond issue to finance it, and 44 percent of them said they would be more likely to vote for it while 26 percent said they would be more likely to vote against it. Another 10 percent said their vote depended on what a center would cost.
Then, the pollsters asked those 78 voters what they would do if the board opted to convert a building to an Early Childhood Education Center instead. Ten percent said they would still vote for early childhood education and 26 percent said they probably would. Seventeen percent said they would probably vote no and 32 percent said they would definitely vote no.
The 165 voters who said they would prefer renovating a building and putting all the students into the other two schools were asked if they would support a bond issue to renovate one school into a Early Childhood Education Center and enlarge the other two for graded centers for all students. Forty percent of them said they'd be more likely to vote for it and 11 percent said they'd vote against it.
These 165 voters were also asked what they would do if the board opted for the standalone concept instead of the renovations they, the voters, preferred. Six percent said they would definitely still vote for Early Childhood Education while 40 percent said they probably would. Thirty-two percent said they'd probably vote no and 5 percent said they'd definitely vote against it.
There were 132 voters who picked neither the standalone nor the renovated school concept. The pollsters asked them how they would vote on a bond issue. Thirteen percent said they would be more likely to vote for Early Childhood Education, no matter what the concept. Thirty-five percent said they'd vote against whatever was on the ballot.
Indirectly related to the Early Childhood Education Center was the series of questions about how much money voters would be willing to support for any of the projects.
The pollsters picked three levels of funding $47.50 per year, $38 per year and $19 per year, all based on a $100,000 home.
Page 3 of 4 - Eight percent strongly favored and 52 percent favored the $47.50 level.
Eight percent strongly favored and 53 percent favored the $38 level.
Eight percent strongly favored and 59 percent favored the $19 level.
The margin of error in the survey is 5 percent.
Patron Insight shares ‘findings’ of survey
Patron Insight’s document presents several “findings.” Here they are:
Finding No. 1: “Respondents gave 16 of 19 different people, program, facility and district/patron relationship factors — plus the district’s overall performance a grade of B or better (or the statistical equivalent of a B) on the traditional A-F grading school. Ten of the 19 factors qualified as Patron Hot Buttons, which are factors that typical patrons pay the most attention to. This suggests the presence of an interested and generally satisfied patron population.”
Finding No. 2: “The district’s teachers, its strong academics/curriculum and good reputation are its leading areas of strength, according to survey participants, while almost half could not identify an area needing improvement.”
Finding No. 3: “Respondents believe that the three concepts under consideration for the long-range plan — an auditorium for Rolla High School, updating student and staff technology, and an expanded Early Childhood Education program — are all good ideas. However, their level of interest in supporting these ideas through a ballot initiative is strongest for technology, somewhat less for Early Childhood Education, and modest for the Rolla High School auditorium.
Finding No. 4: “Respondents who had a preference selected the “renovation/graded center” option over the “standalone facility” choice. While relatively equal percentages of supporters of each option said they would be more likely to vote in favor of a bond issue that included their choice, those who preferred “renovation/graded center” were more willing to vote in favor of the other choice also than were those who said they preferred the “standalone” option.
Finding No. 5: “Support for a bond issue to fund these projects is encouraging at this point, with 60 percent saying they would 'strongly favor’ or 'favor’ a ballot issue that would result in a $47.50 tax increase for the owner of a $100,000 home in the school district.”
Finding No. 6: Ten of 19 potential sources for district news are consulted at least as often as “rarely” by survey participants, while two of those 10 — “friends and neighbors” and The Rolla Daily News — are consulted more often than sometimes.”
Finding No. 7: “The survey group included a large group of long-term residents, a solid mixture of ages, and meaningfully sized groups of current, past and 'never’ student families.”
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