Survey Results Revealed at Rockwood Board Meeting
Market research pros delivered preliminary results to Rockwood school board members at Thursday's board meeting. They said the data does not support a tax increase.
"The odds are not with you at the moment for patrons' support for a tax increase."
That was the conclusion from UNICOM-ARC market researcher Rod Wright, who delivered results from a June survey of Rockwood School District residents to directors at Thursday's board of education meeting.
Rockwood board president Steve Smith said while he had utmost respect for Wright and UNICOM, the board had called upon the market research firm "for advice, but not to make decisions" for the board.
"You have given us very meaningful advice. When we had to make the decision about putting a tax increase on a November ballot, we only had the October 2010 survey results," said Smith. "These (new) results are better in some respects, and do not necessarily point toward putting the ballot issue off. There are lots of factors to consider."
The research firm's results were based on 500 phone interviews with randomly selected households, based on registered voters' lists. However, Thursday night's presentation did not include data from the 710 online surveys completed during July.
UNICOM researcher Sharon Gotter said the phone surveys done in June are statistically reliable, due to the random selection, whereas the online data from this month is anecdotal, based on self-nominated Rockwood residents volunteering their opinions.
"The online survey is another data point, but it cannot be considered scientifically valid," she said.
"We live in a 'tastes great, less filling' world," Wright told the school board members, saying Rockwood residents want quality education, but do not want to pay more for it in the future. He said it has been easier for districts that raise taxes more often than Rockwood to get them passed.
"It's been a long time since you've asked for a tax increase," he said. "But the data does indicate more Rockwood patrons have a growing awareness of the financial challenges the district faces."
Rockwood School District has not raised taxes since a 1994 referendum.
Director Peggy Devoy asked if the UNICOM professionals thought further analysis of the data by demographics, for example, would indicate any different patterns. Gotter said it has been her experience that phone survey respondents are, in general, about 15 percent more than positive in nature than online survey responsedents.
Director Janet Strate, probing about the timing of the phone surveys in the second and third weeks of June, asked if the researchers thought they would learn anything different from the online version of the survey still under way this month.
Wright told board members that parent support needs to be 75 percent to offset what industry researchers call the "demographically hyperactive conservative voters."
Wright also said leadership for a tax increase needs to come from residents, rather than from board members or administrators.
"Community members are more persuasive," he said. "Voters indicate 'people like me' are at the top of their lists of influencers. There simply is an erosion of credibility of any person's leadership once they move from volunteer to board member."
With 28 percent of voters typically strongly opposed to referendums, Wright said he believed the best-case scenario for Rockwood would be to "drive support for the proposed tax increase 5 to 10 percent higher."
He noted that Rockwood would be paying "the full freight of costs" of deploying a single-issue November ballot, however, compared to an April election period that would include other items.
Compared to other districts for which they survey, Wright said Rockwood garners among the highest levels of praise. "Next to Rockwood, there's only about one exception and that's Naperville in Chicago. It's the district that most districts like yours look to for best practices," he said. "For Rockwood and its quality, you have a lot of support. It's a shame that doesn't translate into support at the polls."
Wright said the data pointed toward a 43 percent starting point of support for a Rockwood tax increase. He told board members they could expect perhaps a 46 percent to 48 percent favorable vote, but that the tax increase would not likely pass unless they can raise the percentage starting point base of supporters.
He recommended ramping up the district's two-way communications and public engagement program, which he said he believed was working already.
"You may want to take longer with your communications work. People have to wrestle with the concept of they can't have their cake and eat it also," he said.
Editor's Note: Check back to Eureka-Wildwood Patch for a separate, future article about detailed UNICOM survey results.