Pelham residents want to continues the educational excellence of their schools, but they also want to control property taxes and they believe there’s more room for cuts to be made in the district’s budget before the impact is felt in the classrooms.
These are some of the results from a telephone survey that was conducted last month by Unicom-Arc, a St. Louis-based research and public relations firm. Rod Wright, the presidents of the firm, presented the findings of the survey during Monday night’s school board meeting.
The survey, which cost about $18,000 and was partly paid for by Souther Westchester BOCES, was completed using 400 interviews from registered voters in the community. The data was weighted to accurately reflect the percentage of households with children under the age of 18, according to Wright. An overview of the survey data is available in the PDF to the right of this story.
“I think the key reason you do public opinion research is to hear from everyone—people who might be more interested in “American Idol” at night than they are coming to a meeting or going to Web site,” Wright said.
Wright said the results of the survey would be collected and compiled in a report. That reports will show the demographics and other data of the people interviewed. Another Internet survey will be made available on the district’s Web site that is open for everyone to participate in about a week.
Wright said the survey numbers were, generally, favorable for the district. He also said the majority of survey respondent feel that school officials do a good job of disseminating information to the public.
Nearly 90 percent of the people interviewed felt that they were either very well informed or somewhat informed about the school district.
Another thing Wright said the survey showed is that people don’t want to see too many changes in the district.
“You’re going to see in any kind of proposal that has to do with changing things considerably are what people may view considerably—not a lot of support for that,” Wright said.
An example of this is seen in question that asked how people felt about . About 32 percent of the respondents were in favor of the idea while 57 percent opposed it, according to survey.
Wright admitted that the question was loaded and asked if respondents if they would favor a reconfiguration even move evened out class sizes, improved educational opportunities and saved money.
“If this is a direction that the district needs to go, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in this area to explain to the community the benefits of it,” Wright said.
About 91.4 percent of the respondents graded the Pelham school district A or B in terms of how well they are performing. Wright said only a few school districts that he has worked with has ever received feedback that high.
“These are really outstanding numbers,” Wright said. “In most school districts, these numbers are in the 50s or 60s, sometimes in the 70s, almost rarely in the 80s, never in the 90s, and, of course, you’re at 91.4 percent.”
When people were asked near the beginning of the survey if they would support the budget if it meant a 3 percent increase to the existing tax rate, about 53 percent of the respondent said they would be in favor of the budget while 44 percent said they would oppose it.
About 21 percent of the people who opposed budget said the amount of the budget is too much, while 23 percent said they couldn’t afford the taxes.
A little more than 60 percent of the people surveyed agreed or somewhat agreed that they couldn’t afford paying higher property taxes regardless of what the money is being used for. At the same time, about 60 percent of the respondents said that they are willing to support increases in taxes in order to maintain quality education in the district. Although this seems contradictory, Wright said the first question only mentioned taxes and not education.
Wright said people’s emotions change when education is mentioned in the question.
Nearly 89 percent of the respondents strongly agree or somewhat agree that supporting the school district is important to ensuring that Pelham is great place to raise a family, about 67 percent of the respondents agree that there’s more room to cut from the budget before students would feel the impact.
Only about 26 percent of the respondents believe the district is doing all that it can to keep taxes low.
"The survey data shows you have some communication challenges," Wright said. "One, people think there's stuff you can cut without hurting kids. Two, they think you have enough money and they think you're doing a great job. They don't see any storm clouds over the horizon. That's something you can learn from this survey."
At the end of the survey, respondents were asked again if they would support the budget that included a 3 percent increase to the tax levy that is within the state’s mandated tax cap. About 54 percent of the people interviewed said they would and about 43 percent said they wouldn’t.
“It was almost an exact dead heat from the first time the question was asked,” Wright said.
Clarification: BOCES provided a portion of the funding for the survey.