Discussing survey for referendum

Peter Leatherman, chief executive officer for the Morris Leatherman Co., discusses the demographics of survey respondents with the Litchfield School Board members at a work session.

A recent survey of 400 Litchfield School District residents indicates residents would be willing to increase taxes to fund schools.

The survey, conducted by the Morris Leatherman Co. for Litchfield Public Schools, suggested that 67 percent of respondents agree that local taxpayers need to step up to support the district. Additionally, three-fourths of respondents stated they were for all or some tax increases (52 percent for some) while 23 percent were against tax increases.

The survey also suggested that 78 percent of respondents felt Litchfield Schools is “excellent or good in quality.” The survey, conducted to gauge the residents' initial feelings about a referendum in the fall, selected Litchfield residents at random for questions by phone. The board discussed survey results during a work session June 27.

“(Litchfield Public Schools) are right at the norm that we see across the state of Minnesota,” said Peter Leatherman, CEO of Morris Leatherman Co. “What differentiates districts is (an) excellent rating. Minnesotans are very difficult graders, and they are not enthusiastic about much. And so, the norm on the favorable rating right now is 80 percent.”

Superintendent Beckie Simenson said the results will help the school board refine what might be included in a referendum.

“We decided to do this survey to help us better understand what the public wanted moving forward with the operating referendum and the bond referendum,” Simenson said.

This was the first time the Litchfield School District administered a comprehensive study, she said.

“This really told us a lot of really good information about what our community wants with Litchfield Public Schools and the direction we need to (go) moving forward,” Simenson said. “So telling (the school board) what the quality of Litchfield public schools is (and) the quality of our buildings and facilities. (Also) everything from job performance ratings and financial management. This is huge for us as a district to know (that) our residents have confidence in what we are doing.”

Of those who participated in the survey, 66 percent of the respondents were either single with no children, young couples with no kids, or older empty-nesters; 29 percent reported having children attending Litchfield schools and 13 percent of the households had preschool-aged children.

The operating levy and bond vote will address some of the district’s operational and facility needs. The survey indicated that 47 percent of respondents felt the district was not adequately funded, while 41 percent felt they were (12 percent chose not sure). In terms of the district’s facilities, 76 percent felt the district’s buildings were in excellent or good condition; 13 percent said fair; and 11 percent reported poor.

Simenson said that custodial staff do an excellent job taking care of the district’s buildings, but when you look around, you start to see improvements that need to be made.

“We need to give Ripley a little bit of love,” Simenson said. “The building is 50 years old, and we just got some preliminary numbers for kindergarten enrollment above what we expected. Our residents know that they have to do something, but we have to be fiscally responsible with the funds that we receive.”

In terms of job performance, 64 percent of the respondents reported positively about the school board and 28 percent reported negatively, he said. Sixty-three percent reported positively about the superintendent and administrations while 26 percent reported negatively. And the teachers received a positive rating of 85 percent.

Respondents of the survey also felt that the district is spending its funds wisely — 68 percent felt the school district spends tax payer’s money efficiently and effectively. Further, 88 percent said the schools are a good value on investment and 81 percent reported the school district does a good job involving the community in decision-making. Also, 84 percent trust the school district to do the right thing and 80 percent said the school district does a good job reporting important issues.

The survey also asked what residents wanted to see used with the bond and levy funds, and 77-81 percent favored using them for deferred maintenance, improving industrial and vocational spaces, reinstating classes and programs and maintaining class sizes. Also, 67-76 percent favored construction of kindergarten space, updating special education space, improving STEM space and improving secured entrances. And 60-67 percent favored renovation of the kitchen and cafeteria, permanent technology budget and improving parking lot safety.

Simenson said some businesses have expressed interest in creating a partnership with the district to provide some vocational opportunities for students.

“We want to put a welding unit in the high school that would train students to go right into the workforce,” Simenson said. “We also want to teach the value of staying in the community to our students.”

After two more work sessions, the school board will finalize three questions for the referendum in the fall. The first question will involve the operating levy and the other two bond questions cover building improvements and the wellness center and pool.

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