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School District 833 resident survey says levy renewal would pass

A clear majority of residents would support a renewal of an existing school property tax levy, according to a recent independent survey.

The Decision Resources survey, provided to the District 833 School Board last week, found that 65 percent of those polled would back a levy renewal.

The district plans to hold a referendum renewal this fall and has the option of renewing another existing levy, which expires next year, on the same November ballot.

In addition to levy renewals, which would not alter the amount of taxes collected, the board will consider whether to ask for more money to operate schools. A workshop is set for early June for board members to discuss their options.

There is a good climate to ask for more money, according to Bill Morris of Decision Resources, who presented the findings. More people favor increasing money for the classroom and fewer people support more buildings, he reported.

During the survey, 400 people from random age groups in the school district were interviewed by phone. Only 4 percent of people contacted didn't want to take the survey. The survey industry norm is 30 percent, Morris said.

The amount of support found in the survey depends on how the money would be spent. At the top of the "should support" list is keeping small class sizes, and 60 percent support spending to improve security at school entrances. Spending money for more technology, such as increasing Internet broadband width, would also get a thumbs up from voters.

At the bottom of the list is spending money for "personal devices" such as iPads. Morris calls it the "Stillwater effect." Several years ago a Stillwater middle school provided laptop computers to all students, a move widely disapproved by district residents.

If District 833 School Board members, who have discussed technology and security needs, were to ask for more money to operate schools, and voters liked the proposals, they would support a property tax increase of between $30-$50 a year, the survey found. Support is also high for additional mental health services and teacher training for technology.

If building construction or other brick-and-mortar projects are proposed, support drops to an increase of between $30 to $48 per year.

The survey also found that 22 to 25 percent of respondents won't support any increase for any reason. On the other end, 46 percent would support renewals, more money for classrooms and additional building.

When various groups were asked, 41 percent of parents said they would support referendums in general, down from the 2011 Decision Resources survey, and 46 percent of "empty nesters" would support referendums, up from previous surveys.

On the supporting side are 63 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of Republicans. In Cottage Grove, there is 53 percent support, and 43 percent in Woodbury.

Of alumni, 52 percent would support, a number only found in a few districts. Most graduates are in the opposition, Morris said.

In the district, there's a "moderately hostile" tax climate, according to Morris, with half the people stating their total tax bill is too high. But not all blame schools because 47 percent said school taxes were average.

In terms of job performance, 88 percent gave teachers high marks. The school board also fared well with a 71 percent positive rating. The average is 50 percent, Morris said. The superintendent and administration was rated 66 percent positive; the survey industry norm is 55 percent.

Generally, favorable impressions of the district were up over 2011 with 82 percent of people rating the quality of education either good or excellent.

The 87 percent positive response to whether residents were getting a good return on their education investment is the highest in the metropolitan area, Morris said. "You're in a good position," he added.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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