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July, 2007 - SMAC in the News

School levy surveys sent out, prompt return requested

Dana Yost

They want to check your pulse.

Not medically, but what you think about your school system, especially about a possible operating levy this fall.

A fast-track survey was mailed out to 4,200 addresses in the Marshall School District on Thursday, and members of a grass-roots committee supporting the levy hope for a quick return of them - they'd like them back in the mail from you by July 13.

“We want to know where the pulse is at,“ said Jean Haug, a member of the committee.

“We're really looking to find out how they feel about this,“ said Mike Rich, of the Southwest Minnesota Advisory Center, the marketing group that was contracted to write and conduct the survey.

The survey is being sent to every address in the district.

It is designed to be easy and quick to fill out, Rich said. It shouldn't take any longer than five minutes. It also comes with a postage-paid return envelope to encourage people to send it back. SMAC is donating the postage costs, Rich said.

“We want to emphasize that they can respond to this fairly rapidly, even if they are the type that doesn't normally fill out a survey,“ Rich said.

Haug and Jeff Kruse, co-chairman of the grassroots committee, also urged people to return the surveys promptly.

The school district has an operating levy in place that is set to expire. School officials are considering putting another one to a vote this fall to help off-set underfunding from the state and federal governments, and a projected enrollment drop.

The survey is essentially intended to find three main answers, and many other cross-tab responses, Rich said. The main answers organizers hope to learn:

Would residents vote yes on a levy?
If so, how much of a levy would they support?
If not, where do they think the budget should be cut or what should be emphasized?
Marshall currently has a per-pupil levy of $200 a student, far below the state average of $709 per pupil. In fact, Marshall's in the bottom quarter of school districts in the state on per-pupil levies.

School officials have talked about a couple of different new levies, one that would simply keep the district at a break-even point, or one that would allow for some enhancements.

Haug said the point of the survey is to gauge interest, and give all residents a chance to participate. Even if they don't send the survey back, they've had the opportunity, but she hopes they do reply.

“We do not want to hide anything,“ Haug said.

Rich said the survey would be “totally unbiased,“ because his center is an independent organization not connected to the school district. It has to maintain neutrality because it works with a number of clients.

If the survey results show a majority of people oppose the levy, Rich said organizers will use answers on the survey to try to pinpoint how to educate voters on why the school would need the levy. He also said that if voters say they want the programs, but results show most don't want to pay for them, that will also be pointed out and hopefully addressed.

Kruse said it's important for voters to recognize that an operating levy is different from a building referendum. Funds approved for the new high school and other construction in 2003 can legally only be used for facilities. An operating levy is for “what goes on inside the classrooms,“ he said.

Because of government underfunding, this could be the first time Marshall uses an operating levy merely to avoid deep cuts, rather than add new programs, Kruse said.

The current levy pays for expanded programs the community has said is important - all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes in elementary grades, and technology upgrades.

In a cover letter included in the survey, Kruse and co-chairman Roger Madison say that without a positive vote on the new levy, the district “would have to make significant cuts immediately, including the above programs.“

And if voters OK a repeat of the $200 per-pupil unit levy, the district would still have to make some cuts, they said. Only going beyond $200 would spare cuts.

Rich said that he and students at the Southwest Minnesota State-based SMAC will enter survey results as they are returned, and should have initial final results compiled within 24 hours of the end of the survey period. Those results will be turned over to the grassroots committee.

For further information, call 507-537-7102 or e-mail:

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