Survey data points positive for Howard-Suamico referendum
By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – Preliminary survey data presented at the Monday, Oct. 12, Howard-Suamico school board meeting indicate the community is positive about another possible referendum question.
“I think people are being very clear with where they are on this,” said Joe Donovan, president and founder of the Donovan Group, a consulting firm hired by the district. “This data matches up quite nicely with data you’ve collected before and is generally supportive of moving forward with a referendum. I will end with this, the data support your moving forward. I don’t think there are any surprises in the data at all.”
The survey, which was opened Sept. 26 and closed Oct. 11, drew 1,595 respondents.
This is the seventh survey the Donovan Group has helped the district with in the past decade, and it drew the most responses.
“We tend to see a higher percentage of survey takers that have a strong connection with the school district because they’re parents, we would expect that,” Donovon said. “However, we always include a comparison group.”
The comparison group consisted of 247 respondents who were not district parents or employees.
“We find the comparison group tends to look more closely like the people who vote on Election Day,” he said. “So it’s extremely rare when we do a survey that the vote totals don’t come back between the comparison group and the pairing group.”
For the question “How likely are you to support an operational referendum to renew the expiring referendum?” the main group had 71 percent in favor, and the comparison group showed nearly 47 percent in favor.
For the question “I would support updates to air handling, air quality, and air conditioning systems so that learning environments at all schools are similar,” the main group had nearly 80 percent in favor and the comparison group showed 62 percent in favor.
For the question “I would vote ‘yes’ on a referendum question resulting in no tax rate increase to address the district’s most urgent facilities issues,” the main group had nearly 82 percent in favor and the comparison group showed 65 percent in favor.
“When we look at these numbers, they’re higher in terms of support on this survey than it was for the referendum that passed (in 2018),” Donovan said.
The survey also asked open ended questions.
The themes the consulting firm identified were air conditioning/air filtration, taxes and the previous referendum.
“Having done a fair amount of survey work in your district, I will tell you residents in Howard-Suamico spend time providing feedback to you,” Donovan said. “That’s not always the case.”
To better educate the public on specifics regarding the potential operational referendum, the school board reviewed the charge it would provide to a community task force.
Superintendent Damian LaCroix said the task force will be made up of parent representatives from each school, staff from each school, possible village board representatives, active older adults and school support staff.
The task force will consider the district’s financial situation and work to develop a written report to the school board that details a solution or set of solutions for the board to consider.
LaCroix also presented information to the board from the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance that shows there will be 47 school referendum questions on the November ballot for 37 districts.
“These are conversations happening throughout the State of Wisconsin,” LaCroix said. “I’m not sure how many will be on the April ballot, but I’d venture to guess this many or more.”
Twenty of those questions are to issue $925 million total in debt, 10 will ask voters to exceed the revenue cap on a recurring basis, and 17 will ask voters to exceed the revenue cap on a non-recurring basis, like district voters approved in 2018.
A recurring referendum means voters only have to approve spending over the revenue cap one time, while non-recurring requires voters to approve it again and again, usually after five years.
District voters rejected a $4 million recurring referendum with more than 70 percent of the vote in 2017.
In 2018, voters approved a non-recurring referendum for the district to exceed the state-imposed revenue cap by $5.85 million a year for five years to address classroom size, teacher compensation and facilities maintenance.
Though a question hasn’t been solidified yet, the board has discussed the aging Bay View Middle School as something it might address with a referendum question next spring.
One issue that snagged the board in terms of defining the charge would be what it would consider if presented with information that shows a new building to be more cost effective than a renovation.
“One worry I have is if we directly address that in the charge to the task force we are predisposing them to building a new building,” said Jason Potts, trustee.
The board agreed without a vote that it would consider that information when presented with specific numbers at the end of October or early November.