District 51 schools survey will cost $48,000

School District 51 will pay public finance firm George K. Baum & Co. $48,000 to survey local voters and analyze the survey results.

Baum & Co., which has an office in Denver, created and mailed budget update fliers to more than 32,800 active voters in District 51 boundaries earlier this month, then mailed surveys to the same people about two weeks ago. The survey asked voters if they would approve a $14.5 million mill levy override for local schools and how they would prioritize restoring teaching positions and school calendar days that have been cut in the district.

A phone survey is being conducted this week to round out the survey process. Questions in the phone poll include whether a call recipient would support a $14.5 million override or an override for half that amount; whether now is an appropriate time to ask for an override; and how the call recipient feels about the tea party.

The survey will continue until 400 local residents have been called, according to District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland.

Kirtland said Baum will use the $48,000 contract to create and mail the budget update fliers and paper surveys, conduct the phone survey, analyze the results of the surveys, and help form a ballot question if needed. Kirtland said the district does not have the ability to perform the above tasks.

“It’s a cost that’s necessary to make sure the (school) board is going to make a good decision” whether to place an override question on the Nov. 1 ballot, he said.

Surveys, analysis and advice provided by local marketing firm Cobb & Associates helped the city of Grand Junction decide last year not to ask voters to fund new public safety facilities. The city paid $58,600 for its services and spent an additional $5,000 on a series of five public meetings.

The city ended up using certificates of participation to pay for a public safety facility.

District 51 School Board member Greg Mikolai said the board will use the survey information to decide whether to place an override question on the ballot and, if that happens, to determine the amount of the override request. The survey will help the board decide how to spend the money, how to clear up any confusion in the community, and decide whether the override will sunset, he said.

“This is the kind of information that is necessary to move forward and put together a mill levy override language that’s going to work for the people of the Grand Valley,” Mikolai said. “I know some people would say, ‘You’re wasting money,’ but we’re gathering information. If we didn’t look at information in a clear way, that would be irresponsible.”

Mikolai said the board is considering an override question this year because of recent budget cuts and because the district will already pay to participate in this November’s school board election. Placing an override question on the same ballot will not cost the district extra because election fees are based on the number of ballots printed, not how many questions an entity asks. The district would have to pay for an override question on the 2012 ballot because no school board seats are up that year.

The district spent $143,120.48 to appear on the November 2008 ballot. The $185 million bond question and a $6 million override question on that ballot failed.

Aside from the added price tag, Mikolai said placing an override question on the 2012 ballot could be a problem because it may be hard for the measure to get attention during a presidential election year. The district will have another school board election in fall 2013, but Mikolai said the district may already have had to close schools or lay off more teachers by that point if budget cuts continue.

“That will be plugging the hole in the boat after it’s already sunk,” he said.


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