On July 13, we published a survey to collect feedback on the Pulaski County School Board’s proposal for a new middle school. In nine days, 749 people responded. Of course the responses are not representative of the entire county, for a variety of reasons. Since it was distributed via social media, respondents were likely a little younger and more affluent since they have internet access. And since it was distributed initially through networks of new middle school supporters, respondents were more likely to be in favor of the school board’s proposal.
Even so, we did see more diversity in the respondent pool than anticipated. 35% of those who responded do not have children or grandchildren in or soon to be in the public schools. The age distribution in the responses predictably skewed younger than the county, but 22% were still over the age of 55. Geographically, the respondents more or less mirrored the county distribution.
But even without a more representative sampling of the population, the sheer number of responses represent nearly as many voices as those who voted for any one of the current Board of Supervisors in their last election.
[T]he sheer number of responses represent nearly as many voices as those who voted for any one of the current Board of Supervisors in their last election.
Other than the number of respondents, there is no real shocker in the results, but here are my greatest takeaways:
- People have many opinions on this issue and want to share them. This survey was not short and, still, 749 people took the time to complete it – many offering extensive write-in comments. Our elected officials should create more opportunities for community input into these major decisions. Only 28% of respondents have expressed their views to the Board of Supervisors so far so if they think that they have a clear perspective of what their constituents want, they are likely incorrect.
- Residents want elected officials to have a transparent plan for building and maintaining new schools in the future. It is their clear #1 concern. 64% of respondents placed “Need vision for future school funding and maintenance” in their top three concerns about the middle school proposal. The second highest concern, at 57%, was “county should have done a better job of maintaining schools.” By comparison, “affordability of tax increase” ranked low (only 16% ranked this concern among their top three), and was similar in concern level to “would like to keep 2 middle schools,” “little/no community input on plan,” and “traffic concerns.”
- 99% of survey respondents want all Pulaski County children to have a safe, accessible learning environment. 4 respondents strongly disagreed with this statement and 1 was neutral. Judging from their other responses (all 5 indicated that they were very likely to vote in favor of the school referendum), I’m guessing these folks were confused by the amateur survey questions (amateur = me).
Many have complained that the middle school issue is dividing the county. In that context, it is easy to assume the worst about those on the other side. If you are in favor of the school board’s proposal, you might assume that those who are opposed do not care about children’s education. And if you are opposed, you might assume that those in favor are only concerned for their own children and don’t care about others’ challenges. If you are unsure, you may just not want to enter the fray between these two camps.
But what this last response shows me is that, at the very least, even on a confidential survey, no one is willing to admit that they don’t want all county children to have safe, accessible learning environments. Other portions of the survey show that almost no one is completely happy with the current middle school proposal. Nearly everyone expressed some concerns, even though 78% of respondents were either likely or very likely to vote in favor of the referendum. And no one claimed that the current middle schools are
[N]o one is willing to admit that they don’t want all county children to have safe, accessible learning environments.
Solving serious community problems requires difficult conversations. I’m proud of our community for rising to the challenge and offering feedback about the school board’s middle school proposal when given an opportunity. I’m impressed with the thoughtful responses this survey received – both from those who support the middle school proposal and from those who oppose it. It gives me hope that we can find a good, though probably not perfect, solution to this problem that we all seem to agree exists.
(NOTE: In many ways, the richness of the survey responses was found in the write-in comments. We will be exploring the themes that emerged there at a later time.)
UPDATE: Raw survey responses are available here.