Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Survey Says....

Item B1 on the agenda for Monday's School Board meeting is a presentation of an analysis of the data collected via a community survey conducted by Fallon Research in March of this year. Here is the written report for your inspection, in the form of a survey summary as well as the survey presentation.

While such surveys have been taken periodically over the years, this is the first case I know of one being presented to the Board during a regular meeting - at least in recent times. I thank President Lisa Whiting for putting it on the agenda. I hope this leads to an informative discussion, and as an input to our strategic planning.

Your comments are welcome here of course, and you are also encouraged to exercise your right to speak before the Board during the meeting.


  1. Paul, thank you for posting the link to the survey. It will be interesting to see what the Board and Administration take from this over the "next two years". Again, it is just a survey and questions can be understood differently by folks but it seemed there was a constant theme throughout...

  2. I would also add that I think the survey results are perhaps skewed. Only 29% said the district is on the wrong track while 58% said they were on the right track.

    Yet in November we were split pretty evenly at the polls.

    In addition, a vast majority of respondents said they were at least somewhat in touch with what the district is doing. I can state categorically right now that that is utter BS. Even board members would agree that our electorate is highly ignorant of the goings on in the school district. (One might even suggest that the district counts on this to pass levies...)

    Of course the reality is the survey is simply reporting the respondents who took the poll, but in this case I don't believe it is a fair representation of the residents of the school district.

    My point is this: given all of that, for these numbers to come out the way they did should be sending shockwaves through the district.

    I hope they are listening...

    1. Let's start by agreeing that the set of 400 voters interviewed represent a reasonably representative sample of our community. The demographic statistics - e.g. the distribution of respondents who do and do not have kids in our schools - are consistent with past surveys.

      What we don't know is whether it is a good sample of the voters who will actually show up the next time a levy is on the ballot. I think it is significant whether it's a primary or general election, and what else is on the ballot. We've had times when a school levy is the only thing on the ballot, and others when it has been during a hotly contested Presidential election.

      My question was what we thought this survey told us about the propensity of the voters to support the future levies necessary to fund the Five Year Forecast. Paul Fallon's response was that our community showed a remarkable level of satisfaction with our school district.

      My takeaway was that the survey told us that voters want pretty much all programming and services to be maintained, but at a lower cost.

      This circles back to the reality that approaching 90% of our cost is comp and benefits. And as I've said many many times, the only way to change comp and benefits costs is to change the headcount and/or the average salary. So making costs go down means either reducing headcount - through attrition and/or layoffs - or reducing comp.

      We have had some degree of the latter as a result of the early retirement incentive program, which gave some of most highly paid teachers the opportunity to retire a little early, and for us to replace them with teachers closer to the beginning of their careers, and therefore paid less. But this won't have huge significance.

      So what the voters are really telling us is that we have to accomplish what so many of us in the private sector hear every day - get more done with less.

      This is the struggle for every school district everywhere in the country. The Columbus Dispatch today reported that Columbus City Schools needs its next levy to be 9.15 mills to fund their Five Year Forecast. I don't see anything close to that passing, although Columbus admittedly has a different electorate, with many voters being renters in low-end housing who believe property tax levies are paid mostly by someone else - like the big commercial property owners downtown.

      I'd like to see our Board have a conversation about what the 10-20 levy picture might look like under a couple of scenarios. The results of such an exercise would be highly speculative, primarily because of the huge unknown which is state funding.

      But at least we could get some ideas of where things might go, and start to think about what decisions we need to make now to put us in a position to survive as a community going forward.

    2. The sentence in the next to last paragraph above should have read: "I'd like to see our Board have a conversation about what the 10-20 year levy picture might look like under a couple of scenarios."

    3. I agree with what you concluded, but I think the respondents you got were probably a "best case scenario", and even then these results are not all peachy for HCSD.

      If it turns out there's a 5% (or higher) skew in the results, which I think is probably given that some of the answers just don't match recent reality, then the results are even worse for HCSD.

      I don't think many people would argue that the quality of education provided is poor (the survey confirms this), or that people would like to see it continue, or even improve. The correct question HCSD should be asking is whether we can afford it. The survey results as they stand show that the answer to that is "not really" given the number who want to see costs cut.

      I wonder why the following question wasn't asked:

      "Given a choice, would you prefer to: (a) maintain the quality of education offered, even it means higher taxes, or (b) make necessary cuts to current programs to maintain taxes as they currently stand."

      The answer to that question would have told you how representative the survey actually is.