The results of the Region 15 Community Budget Survey have been released and residents across Southbury and Middlebury produced clear answers on matters such as school security and staffing.
The survey was developed to gauge residents’ opinions regarding the Region 15 2013-14 School Budget. 639 residents finished the survey, according the region.
73 percent of respondents said they would pay an additional $700,000 to increase security measures at regional schools. Many though, did not approve of a cut in academic and afterschool programs in order to pay for the security enhancements.
84 percent of survey takers said they voted on the budget in the past three to five years. Of those who voted, over 80 percent said they review the budget details rather than look at the percent increase when voting.
The following is an overview of the survey results, according to Region 15:
Survey Question #1: District Mission
73% of respondents said that School Safety was essential to the District’s mission. Participants placed the remaining items as Very Important and Worth Preserving. The only topic that was rated as Non Essential was Elementary World Language.
Survey Question #2 & #3: Voting History
84% of respondents voted in the Budget Referendum within the last 3-5 years. 38% of those who did not vote are not registered voters/citizens. Some people felt their vote did not really count or let their spouse’s vote represent both of them. Written responders who have young children not yet in Region 15 schools claim to not see the need to vote until the child is enrolled. No one claimed to have transportation issues.
Survey Question #4: Vote Motivation
56% are motivated to vote by a concern of the addition, reduction or elimination of school programs. While only 9% are motivated by extracurricular activities, respondents state that they are most motivated by a combination of the addition/elimination of BOTH programs as well as extracurricular activities for children.
Survey Question #5: Communication
The manner in which Survey Monkey created the Ranking Question, a few people were confused by how the system arranged the numbers 1-10.The question was also not clear as to if “1” was best or worse in the ranking scale. Therefore, I would not put too much credence in these responses.
That being said:
Respondents stated that the School/District Website and Emails from PTO/Principals were their best source of budget information.
Survey Questions #6 & #7: BOE Transparency
Half of all respondents feel that the BOE has offered transparency in the budget process. Written responses include concerns that the BOE already has its mind made up, BOE meetings are uncomfortable, some issues (teacher contracts, redistricting) are not open. When asked about level of transparency, 70% state that the BOE is either very or somewhat open and transparent. Only 4% believe the BOE is not open at all. Some respondents wonder why Teacher Negotiations/Contract are only announced once it is passed, why Personnel issues are no longer on the agenda, and level of detail re: security should not be publicized.
Survey Question #8: Budget Options
84% state they review the budget details and vote accordingly, rather than look at a percent increase.
Survey Question #9 & 10: Security
73% of respondents would pay an additional $700,000 to pay for school security enhancements. 82% do not wish a $700,000 cut in academic/afterschool programs in order to pay for school security enhancements.
42% of respondents would support a 4% increase, if security is funded. 34% would support a 3% increase. Notably, 15% do not support a budget increase. Comments include concerns about what additional security means and if it costs that much.
Survey Question #11: Program Support
Reduce staff due to lower enrollment, potentially increasing class sizes:
30.2% Oppose/42.4%Strongly Oppose
Eliminate 5th grade band/orchestra programs:
41.8% Oppose/21.0%Strongly Oppose
Reduce or eliminate freshman and/or middle school sports:
39.9% Oppose/41.2%Strongly Oppose
Add a new world language at PHS:
27.6% Oppose/24.2%Strongly Oppose
Reduce or eliminate low-enrolled music programs:
Half Oppose/Half Support
Eliminate low-enrolled AP classes:
Half Oppose/Half Support
Increase interscholastic pay-for-participate costs, student parking fees:
Half Oppose/Half Support
Increase security measures (police presence, building infrastructure):
43.4% Support/39.6% Strongly Support
Increase technology K-12 (laptops, tablets):
45.4% Support/27.5% Strongly Support
Respondents believe that luxury item fees should be increased (parking) but keep fine arts/extracurricular activity fees low to encourage student involvement. Suggestions about decreasing administrators (not teachers) and administrative costs. Public still does not understand state rules about transportation. Respondents are looking for R15 to be creative, including utilizing more grants, involving the community/corporate, and partnering with other districts/consortium.
Survey Question #12: Technology
73% support systemic technology upgrades as long as it supports curriculum. Many respondents support BYOD, a five-year hardware leasing program, return of elementary tech teachers, and staff training.
Survey Question #13: Overall Budget Support
43% support a 4% increase
27% support a 3% increase
15% support a 2% increase
15% support a 0% increase
Of course many respondents wanted more financial details on the budget before making a commitment. A few respondents requested a budget decrease. Some requested a budget increase only if the money were going to a specific line item, e.g. armed security, student education and not toward other items, eg. staff benefits, salaries, pensions, excess administrators
Survey Question #14: Final Comments
“Tough times, tough decisions. I guess the message is to try and keep the kids in mind at all times. They are bystanders to these adult decisions and they should always come first. With that said I know the decisions are difficult to make. May you be blessed with wisdom, courage and honor when making your choices.”
- SECURITY: Security remained high in many people’s thoughts and respondents supported reasonable measures toward security improvements. Questions regarding fed/state funding. A number of people stated they didn’t want Region 15 to have a “knee jerk” reaction to the recent tragedy in Newtown.
- ARTS/SPORTS: Another strong message was respondents’ support for the arts (art, music) and extracurricular/athletic activities in order to build a well-rounded student and to keep children busy. Respondents were split about Pay to Participate: some wanted an increase in sports fees, some wanted arts to have no fees, some were ok with the status quo.
- TECHNOLOGY: There was much support for technology improvements, but a variety of details such as reinstatement of elementary school technology teachers, support or lack of support for technology at high school level, and fundraising ideas for technology rather than in the school budget.
- PERCENT INCREASE: While there were some respondents who felt that the budget should remain at a 0% increase (or a decrease over last year), most respondents supported an increase in the budget since it was flat for two years.
- SALARY: Teacher Contract Negotiations were mentioned often, as they were recently in the news. While people felt that teacher positions should not be cut, respondents were concerned about how negotiations take place and the results (salary increases) of the most recent negotiations. Comments about holding negotiations in public, making contracts public on website, pay for results, elimination of tenure. Respondents did not want classroom teachers cut, but mentioned how the number of administrators, including dept chairs, should be reduced.
- CLASS SIZE: Most respondents supported smaller class sizes, particularly at the elementary level. People felt that although they support AP courses and music, low enrolled classes should be eliminated or operated through distance/online learning.
- OTHER: Insufficient parking, Building maintenance/HVAC, MS Health/Substance Abuse Classes, Bus Route review.
Survey Question #15 & 16: Demographics
81% of respondents are parents/guardians/grandparents of Region 15 students. Almost 9% are staff members and a few respondents are college/high school students. Those parents were mostly parents of elementary school aged children (70%).