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Survey shows strong support for referendum

School district considers borrowing for building renovation projects

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/30/19

ELY – Ely school officials, this week, received a preliminary look at public sentiment on a proposed school facility renovation project. A recently completed survey by School Perceptions LLC showed …

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Survey shows strong support for referendum

School district considers borrowing for building renovation projects

Posted

ELY – Ely school officials, this week, received a preliminary look at public sentiment on a proposed school facility renovation project. A recently completed survey by School Perceptions LLC showed support for a bond referendum of as much as $9 million.

School Perceptions LLC, an independent firm with expertise in school district surveys, is helping Ely school officials gauge public support for facility renovations and new construction that could cost anywhere from $5 million-$20 million.

The survey reportedly went out to all school district residents this fall with an Oct. 14 return deadline.

Of all residents surveyed, 71 percent said they supported the Ely School District exploring a bond referendum to update the school. “Of those respondents who are non-parents and non-staff, the most important category, 62 percent are in favor of exploring a bonding referendum,” said Bill Foster of School Perceptions. “Clearly a majority of voters told you to go ahead and explore a referendum. That’s good news.”

The $5.9 million base plan project for school facility improvements, including the updating of building systems ($3.4 million), connecting the buildings ($1.9 million), and improving safety and security ($600,000) received the most support. The responses were weighted on a scale of one to 10, according to Foster. “If everyone said yes, the numbers would all show 10, and if everyone said no the response would show one,” he explained.

The responses were 8.34 (building systems), 7.65 (connections), and 7.27 (security) for the three categories. “Anything over 5.5 would show strong support, so if a referendum were held today, I would say with a great deal of confidence that the base plan would pass,” Foster said.

As many as 72 percent of respondents said they would “definitely” or “probably” support a bond referendum for a $5.9 million base plan. About 18 percent of respondents indicated “probably no” or “definitely no” on the question.

As for the other facility project components, Foster said there was above-average support for Washington and Memorial building restroom improvements ($620,000), Science and Tech education classrooms ($962,000), and Washington and Memorial classroom renovations ($2.4 million).

Other facility improvements such as locker rooms, music and art classrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium space, and parking lot renovations indicated dwindling or flat support, according to Foster.

The survey data showed that non-parent residents, about 75-percent of all the respondents, would support about $8 million or $9 million in property tax impact on a bonding referendum. “I have a pretty high level of confidence that you would have support to borrow that much,” Foster said. “It would be a stretch to get to the $11 million mark, and at $14 million it would be difficult to get support.”

He suggested that a second bonding referendum question could be presented to gauge support above and beyond the base plan.

“Clearly, there is support for the base plan ($5.9 million), and there is some support for some more projects up to about $4 million,” Foster said. “If you reach the $10 million mark, you are probably pushing it too far. Ask for the base plan bonding referendum and then consider adding a second question for other projects. That way, you won’t risk losing everything if you ask for too much.”

The survey results may not include as much feedback from Winton residents as expected, as there is some question whether all Winton residents received the survey in time to respond. That prompted the school district to resend surveys to all Winton residents, who will now have until Nov. 20 to respond.

Any additional responses from Winton are unlikely to change the level of support by any significant degree, Foster said, and he noted that the response rate was significantly higher than average already.

So far, Ely area residents returned a total of 739 responses, which represents a 25-percent participation rate. Foster said that of the more than 10,000 surveys his company has participated in, the typical response rate is between 18 and 20 percent. “You are doing great from a statistical standpoint.,” he said. “There is a margin of error of 3.6 percent.”

As many as 40 percent of the returned responses are from residents who are 65 years of age or older. “When it comes to voting on a potential bond referendum, the older folks turn out at a much higher rate than younger folks. We are biased toward older (respondents), and that’s a good bias,” Foster said.

About 58 percent of respondents live in the city of Ely, 31 percent of respondents live in the Town of Morse, and so far just one percent of respondents live in Winton.

As many as 56 percent of respondents are graduates of the Ely School District, and 48 percent of respondents are parents/guardian of Ely graduates.

Overall satisfaction with the Ely School District showed high marks. About 79 percent of respondents are very satisfied or satisfied, and just 13 percent of respondents indicated they were not satisfied or very unsatisfied.

Respondents who described themselves as non-parents and non-staff made up approximately 75 percent of all surveys received, according to Foster, and those opinions weighed heavily in the survey. Delivering a high-quality educational experience and providing a safe learning environment received high rating marks, while keeping the public informed and maintaining school facilities were rated just fair.

A final report on the survey, including any Winton-area responses received by the Nov. 20 deadline, could be ready by the end of November, Foster said.

School board members will discuss the survey results at their next meeting.

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