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Spending survey for New Berlin Schools to launch in September

Aug. 12, 2014

New Berlin — A survey aimed at judging taxpayers interest in paying for New Berlin School District projects was determined this week to be ready for circulation, although it still needed a few tweaks on questions concerning school swimming pools.

The consensus of the New Berlin School Board was that the survey questions were fair, unbiased and did not lean toward soliciting one result or another.

The board wants citizen input on the $22 million in facilities projects that remain unfunded at this time. Those include replacing the Eisenhower swimming pool, installing air conditioning at Orchard Lane and Poplar Creek elementary schools, replacing exterior doors and doing HVAC upgrades at New Berlin West Middle/High School and adding gym space at Eisenhower.

While the majority of taxpayers might agree that all the proposed projects are good ideas, the board primarily wants to know whether support exists to finance the improvements.

The survey asks how much more taxes per year would be acceptable for each proposed project. It also asks how much of an increase overall would be acceptable for facilities projects.

Because the board wants reliable information on the public's pulse, it hired the firm Patron Insight to develop and conduct a scientific survey.

"We want to get away from anecdotal data," said Superintendent Joe Garza.

Patron Insight has done similar surveys for 140 school districts in 11 states, said Ken DeSieghardt, Patron Insight CEO.

Sometimes the company's polling showed taxpayers would support what those districts had in mind, but sometimes it didn't

"In 22 years, we've delivered our share of not so happy news," DeSieghardt said.

The only tweaking that board members wanted in the survey was more testing of the level of support for having swimming pools at each of the middle/high schools.

"We need to get more deeply into that question," said board member Susan Manley.

Questions addressing that more fully will be incorporated into the final draft of the survey which will be distributed to the board for a final informal critique.

The survey will start Sept. 19 with the company calling 379 registered voters. The number was chosen because it gives an accuracy of plus or minus 5 percent, the standard for this kind of polling, DeSieghardt said.

The goal is to get feedback from people from whom the board rarely hears, he said. The phone survey should take a couple of weeks, he said.

At the same time, the survey will be on the district's website available for anyone to fill out. The same survey also will be available just for staff.

After the polling is over, the board will receive a detailed report on the results of the telephone survey, which is seen as the most reliable. A separate less detailed report will be provided on the results of the two online surveys.

Manley wanted the demographics part of the survey to include income information. But DeSieghardt advised against that. There is sometimes a backlash from people who are offended at the question, he said.

But School Board President Dave Maxey said that even if the poll results show overwhelming support for raising taxes for the projects, that doesn't mean the board would do it.

Board member Jeff Kurth agreed, saying, "We don't want to frivolously spend money."

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