School survey similar to forums

Survey respondents mostly echoed community forum attendees in their answers to questions about the school district’s budget.

People who took the district’s online survey this spring and people who attended district budget forums in February and March were more likely to favor retention of busing and bus routes, sports and extracurricular activities. Instead of cutting those options, both sets preferred to increase fees for activities and charge for busing in order to balance next year’s budget, although survey respondents were less enthusiastic about those ideas than forum attendees.

The two groups differed most on the prospect of closing schools. While attendees at all but the most sparsely attended of the four budget forums adamantly opposed the idea, 53 percent of online survey respondents said closing one or more schools should be considered to balance the 2012–13 budget.

District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said parents of elementary students and employees of elementary schools were the least likely to support a school closure.

“Every other demographic level supported it,” DeVita said.

Most of the teachers, parents, students, district staff and citizens who took the survey did so before the state Legislature announced cuts to school districts are unlikely this year.

That announcement led the district to reduce its estimate of what it would have to cut from the 2012–13 budget. The original range was $5 million to $8 million. Now it anticipates cutting between $2 million and $4 million to compensate for: mandated contribution increases to retirement benefits; an anticipated enrollment decline; and the prospect of finding about $1 million to backfill the district’s capital project and maintenance fund.

The adjustment led District 51 School Board members to remove a school closure and/or a four-day school week from a list of potential money-saving measures three days before the survey closed March 30.

The survey garnered 3,311 responses in the six weeks and two days that it was available through the school district’s website. District 51 budget surveys at the beginning and the end of 2010 yielded 2,097 and 3,050 responses, respectively.

The portion of people who would support a four-day school week in the district crept up from 69 percent in the winter 2010 survey to 70 percent this year. Just because some people would support the decision doesn’t mean they would seek the change to a four-day week. When asked in the most recent survey if they would prefer to move to a four-day school week rather than stick with the current schedule, only 54 percent of respondents said yes, a lower portion of support than that offered in any of the forums.

The survey results will be bundled with information from the forums and presentations to the School Board on Tuesday by the local Save Our Students group and the citizen Budget Oversight Committee to help the board decide what to cut before the budget is adopted in June.


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