The Platte County R-3 Board of Education and district officials were presented with some sobering, if not expected, survey results during their regular session this past week.
Ken DeSieghardt of Patron Insight — a company out of Stillwell, Kan. — revealed results Nov. 20 at the Platte County District Education Center from an October telephone survey conducted with 400 voters in the district (300 north of KCI Airport and 100 south of KCI Airport) about the upcoming capital project fund tax levy ballot issue. The opinions remained consistent with results from three previous surveys conducted in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The 2010 survey provided baseline results and the next three have all been used to gather pre-election data.
Support remained strong for the projects (about 61 percent) but the approval dropped to nearly 10 points when tied to a particular dollar amount in increased property tax. With a 5 percent margin of error, that leaves support for the estimated increase of $0.38 to $0.52 cents per $100 of assessed valuation at somewhere between 48 and 53 percent.
DeSieghardt said Platte County’s survey results were similar to other districts in the area who use their services and stressed the need to show need and not want to patrons in proposals. His report noted that the majority seem to be basing their decision on projects first and cost second.
District officials hope to use the results as the campaign to build a new elementary school in Platte City, close Rising Star Elementary and make renovations to other buildings in the district moves forward. The last of three scheduled open forums on the issue was conducted Monday, Nov. 24 at Pathfinder Elementary, one of the buildings proposed to receive renovations.
“We have to convey the message to our public,” Platte County superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said, “of what the challenges are and what the business decision is, how it benefits kids in the long run, how it is cost effective in the long run. We’ll try to make sure we bring those out at open forums but also as we speak to the public in terms of providing factual information.”
Respondents to the survey were mostly unaffected by different proposed levels of a tax increase, right now estimated by Reik to end up in the low 40-cent range. The ballot language should be finalized during the board’s Dec. 18 regular meeting.
Platte County did receive lower support from those without a child in the district and those with past graduates at just 49 percent in that combined group.
Patrons were also asked to grade the district on 18 criteria concerning performance, and 13 of those scored as a ‘B’ or better. DeSieghardt noted that in a recent trip to Idaho where all tax increases for school districts require 66-percent approval, a district received scores that high in just four categories.
The five areas to score in the ‘C’ range were in areas further away from actual performance in the classroom: the district’s record on making and fulfilling promises (3.70), efforts of the district to gather input and to involve residents in decision-making (3.66), responsiveness to citizen needs and concerns (3.63), class sizes (3.63) and management of financial resources (3.52).
This fell in line with other district results and those from previous surveys conducted on behalf of Platte County.
Reversing those trends remains important in the region with recent tax proposal failures in mind.
Smithville’s 79-cent operating levy increase was defeated by about a 55-45 margin earlier this month but did see an increase in support from last year’s attempt to gain funding for new buildings. Park Hill also saw a proposal to increase spending on technology go down this past spring.
Engaging those voters without a student currently in the district provides a unique challenge.
“It’s a little harder so you’re more likely to give a ‘C’ if you don’t know,” DeSieghardt said. “That being said, I think recognizing there is no finish line, continuous activity in those areas is always a good idea. It’s the old, ‘Say what we’re doing; do it; say what we did,’ kind of a thing. It reminds people the district is engaging folks in decision making, is sharing information.”
Platte County held three open forums in an attempt to help provide voters with information on its ongoing growth management plan.
According to a commissioned study, Platte County’s buildings are an aggregate 196 students over functional capacity this school year — up almost 100 from 2013-14. Only two buildings remain under functional capacity with total enrollment expected to top 4,000 next year, according to trends and a study of expected residential growth inside the district’s borders.
Officials will continue the effort to convey these challenges along with the potential to increase operating efficiency with the approval of the proposed $28-million project.
“It irritates me to no end when I see comments that people don’t think the information is there,” board member Adam McGinness said during his open comments, referencing the survey results. “Well, it is there. You just have to go get it.”