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Survey will measure public support for a levy referendum

Representatives from The Morris Leatherman Company will be contacting residents of District 196 April 25 through May 3 to gather data on the public’s satisfaction with district schools and support for bringing a levy referendum election this November.

The Minneapolis-based polling firm previously conducted scientific community surveys for the district in 2013, 2015 and 2018. This year’s telephone survey includes 75 questions. The 400 randomly selected respondents will be representative of the population of the district in terms of age, ethnicity, geography and the percentage with school-age children.

The survey includes questions about the overall quality of education provided by district schools, safety and security, class sizes, taxes, financial management, public engagement and preparing students to be college and career ready upon graduation.

This year’s survey focuses on residents’ willingness to support a possible levy referendum election this November and the amount they would be willing to pay to increase the district’s operating levy. There are also questions to measure support for possible program improvements, if additional levy funds were available. The possibilities include lowing class sizes, enhancing academic opportunities for middle school students, increased mental health support for students, expanded preschool opportunities and reinstating activity bus transportation for after-school activities, which was eliminated as part of budget cuts nearly 10 years ago.

The administration and School Board have been hinting at a November 2019 levy referendum for past year. The district faces an estimated $25 million budget shortfall over the next three years as the result of years of inadequate funding from the state. In February, the board approved $7 million in budget adjustments for the 2019-20 school year as a first step in closing the budget gap. The cuts included the elimination of funding for nearly 50 full-time equivalent positions, including 30 teachers, along with reduced funding for instructional supplies and a 10 percent increase in fees for students to participate in cocurricular arts and athletic activities.

Results of the survey will be presented at the May 13 School Board meeting. The board will use the results to guide their decisions about a levy referendum election this November.