"High Achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation." - Charles Kettering

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CAC Referendum Recommendations in Light of Survey Results

If any of you read this morning's Gazette, you will know that the CAC has recommended that the BOE proceed to referendum on three questions on September 9 or one big question in November. The 3 questions in September option would pose a tax impact of 1.305 million dollars year for four years, as envisioned by the CAC. Instead of separating out Safety and Security from building maintenance, as was done in the survey, they recommended lumping them together into one question, with the total expense for those two items being no more than 2.8 million, whereas the survey indicated that the expense to do this would be 3.1 million (Safety at 300K and Maintenance at 2.8 million). The curriculum would be separate at a total of 900K and the Technology would be separate at 1.52 Million. The one big question would have the same tax impact, but the reasoning and timing was important. If questions are separated out, funds have to be spent only on the items specified in the referendum question and earlier voting would enable earlier purchase of services, particularly in outdoor building improvements. In Wisconsin, after November outdoor work is not an option, sometimes all the way until May. That would leave very little time to expend those funds if done in November. If all questions are lumped into one, November would be better, getting a higher voter turnout and giving flexibility for the fund usage where needed. The downside is that those adamantly opposed to one or another item in the one big question may or may not vote against the whole enchilada. The survey didn't really measure how much additional tax burden the community was willing to take on for a limited time.

So what did the survey say about the likelihood of these particular items succeeding on referendum? Important contextual information to have while reviewing the survey results are as follows:

  • The non-parent, non-staff subgroup represents 70-75% of the voters in a district.
  • The undecided survey results typically break negative at 80% no and 20% yes.
  • Our survey results had an inordinately high "undecided/need more info" result across the board, according to the School Perceptions presentation.

63% of all residents responding to the survey said they would support a referendum of $900,000 over four years to improve curriculum. 52% of the non-parent non-staff group said the same. Clearly, there is community support for this item. One need not even perform the weighted average to see that this is likely to be a win at the ballot, but performing that math indicates that initiative would garner 55.3% yes votes, and even with a 2.9% margin of error would likely pass a referendum.


54% of all residents would support this at the ballot with 22% undecided and 44% of the big voting block "non parent non staff" would do so, also with 22% undecided. This is less clear cut. Doing a straight weighted average on these numbers indicates that the likely outcome of a referendum regarding this item alone is only 47% yes. If you include 20% of the undecideds changed to yes in each group, the weighted average is now predicted to be 51.4%, which may encourage the optimists among you, but I just want to remind everyone that the margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.9%, placing this question firmly in the grey area of "it depends on who comes out to vote."


49% of all residents would support a referendum for this item with 31% undecided and 39% of the non-parent non-staff group supports it with 32% of that group undecided. As with the curriculum question, it's clear that a straight weighted average would fail to garner support at the polls. That result would be 42% yes. Adding in 20% of the undecided votes for each category would increase the support level to 48.34% yes. Again,  margin of error puts this even further into the questionably successful category.


57% of all residents supported the technology initiative with a 21% undecided group. 44% of the non-parent non-staff group supported this question with 23% undecided. The straight weighted average indicates public support at the polls would stand at 47.9%, again in limbo. Changing 20% of the undecideds in each group and recalculating the weighted average results in 52.38% support for improving technology and its infrastructure.

What does all this mean? It means that if the BOE decides to take all four of these questions to referendum that Curriculum is likely to be a clear winner and the other three are a crap shoot at this point in the conversation with the community. Two may break positive and one negative. It doesn't seem wise to lump in one that is breaking positive with one that is breaking negative just to get them all on the ballot. I don't know how voters would react to lumping everything into one question, but it seems likely that that strategy, while it has good reasoning, could backfire based on this statistical analysis of the survey results.

How will this affect your property tax bill.

CURRICULUM: 23.2 cents per thousand, increasing the mill rate to $12.53 per thousand in property value, a 1.9% increase in the current mill rate. All of these calculations only include these initiatives and do not take into account the increases that will be seen due to other increases in the revenue limit and debt payment.

SAFETY and MAINTENANCE: 72.2 cents per thousand, giving an individual mill rate increase of 5.9% and a cumulative (including CURRICULUM) rate increase of  95.4 cents per thousand, or a 7.8% increase.

TECHNOLOGY: 43.8 cents per thousand for an individual mill rate increase of 3.6% and a cumulative (including both items above) increase of $1.39 per thousand, or an 11.3% increase.

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