While the Merrill School Board hasn’t yet made a decision whether to place an operating referendum on the April 2018 ballot, district residents have had an opportunity to offer input.
Bill Foster of School Perceptions presented the results of the survey to the Long Range/Referendum Planning Committee Tuesday night. The survey, conducted in October, garnered 1,682 total responses for a return rate of 20 percent. Foster noted that a 20 percent response rate can be considered very good.
Of those who completed the survey, 18 percent were MAPS employees and 43 percent were parents of students in the district. Foster presented the overall responses, while also breaking out those of staff, parents and non-parents.
Respondents gave the most support to a $2.5 million referendum that would maintain all current programs/services and address some additional needs of the district. Among all residents, 38 percent said they would most likely support the $2.5 million referendum; 24 percent said they would most likely support a $3.6 million referendum that would address all identified needs; 14 percent noted support for a smaller referendum that would maintain current programs and services; and 13 percent said they would not support any referendum.
Foster recommended pursuing the $2.5 million option, which would raise the taxes on a $100,000 home by $37.
The survey asked residents if they would support a referendum to provide funding for six identified needs of the district. To fund all of them would require the $3.6 million referendum. Respondents were most interested in enhancing the district’s industrial education/shop courses, addressing annual maintenance needs and retaining high quality staff. Reinstating student support services, maintaining technology and enhancing the band program saw support to a lesser degree.
The $2.5 million referendum would allow funding of some of those identified items. Should the board pursue that option, Foster recommended starting with what survey respondents valued most.
“Start at the top with tech ed and maintenance,” he said. “That’s what your community wants.”
There was no committee discussion of the survey results Tuesday night. The committee will meet again Nov. 29 to discuss the results and possibly decide what to do moving forward, said MAPS Superintendent John Sample.
“It will be beneficial to meet on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. to discuss the Referendum Survey data as a Long Range Financial Referendum Planning Committee,” Sample said following Tuesday night’s meeting. “The information provided to us encouraged committee members to digest the data they were provided prior to any discussion. This meeting will allow for discussion and to share the interpretation of the data for any committee members not present at last night’s meeting. This meeting will take place in the Merrill High School Library.”
The Long Range Financial/Referendum Planning Committee has been meeting for several months. Consideration of a referendum is being pushed mainly by continued declining student enrollment in the district.
The district’s state-set revenue limit is largely tied to its enrollment, which continues to decline. The district is forecasting a budget shortfall of $1.5 million next year and $2.5 million the following year. The only way for the district to levy more than its state-set limit is to pass a referendum.
The full survey results are available on the Merrill Area Public Schools website at http://www.maps.k12.wi.us/.