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Chisago Lakes Schools

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May 25, 2022

4/8/2022 1:47:00 PM
Chisago Lakes School Board sees survey data on fall referendum

The Chisago Lakes school  board held a late-March special meeting to discuss results from the community survey that was conducted as part of a study on a potential levy.

The Morris Leatherman Company conducted the community survey, using 500 random households throughout the district.

The interviews were conducted between February 16 and March 23 and featured a combined 37 percent of homes that had either a preschooler, a school-aged child or both. Sixty-three percent of those polled were emptynesters. Peter Leatherman, who was on hand to present the results, said that was a pretty typical representation of the school district surveys they conduct and that 63 percent being emptynesters, which could be older people with kids already through or younger people who don’t have kids, is right in the middle.
There were a fair number of representatives from each political party, age group, education level and property value (40 percent over $250,000, 39 percent under and 20 percent renters.)

Leatherman presented the results at the meeting, and what the board gleaned from the results was that a majority of those polled were aware of recent budget cuts  and the effects they’ve had on the district and were in favor of a fall operating levy.

But, Leatherman cautioned as well, saying that the district’s “Unsure” response on many questions meant they needed to communicate their efforts and their goals with a potential levy.

“You don’t have a lot of disagreement, but you have a lot of uncertainty,” Leatherman said.

Of those polled, 64 percent were aware of the cuts in the last three years and 60 percent said those cuts directly impact the quality of education at Chisago Lakes.

Those surveyed also seemed to understand that budget cuts are not unique to Chisago Lakes, with almost 80 percent of respondents agreeing that it’s more than a local issue.

While the respondents seemed to be in favor of a 2022 operating levy renewal, with 89 percent either supporting or strongly supporting — Leatherman said that’s on the high side of average for that question — not as many were in favor of substantial tax increases. Sixty-one percent of respondents wanted either a zero or up to $10 per month increase in taxes for the operating levy. Only 17 percent answered yes to a $20 increase and only four percent answered yes to anything over $20. Seventeen percent were unsure of the number they wanted to see.

When respondents were asked as to why they answered the way they did, 24 percent said education was important, 16 percent said because they had children in the district, 11 percent thought the cost was reasonable and 10 percent said it was needed.

On the flip side, 10 percent said they felt the district spends money poorly, eight percent said their taxes are too high already, seven percent said they did not have any children in the district, six percent thought the cost was too high and four percent oppose the levy.

With those numbers, Leatherman had suggested the board ask for no more than an $8-12 per month increase on the average household. He said there is some support for higher than that, but it would take a monumental effort.

The survey company also asked about a $1.7 million technology levy, with 60 percent in support or strong support.

By the end of the meeting, Leatherman had conveyed that if the board was to go forward with a fall levy, they would need to communicate their goals and what they would want to do with the money. The most desired ways for communication among those surveyed were a word of mouth, a mailed newsletter, the local newspaper and e-newsletters.

“I’m thinking about where do we go as a board in a month to get moving,” Board Chair Mark Leigh said. “ Communication is an extremely important piece that has been neglected here, and that’s our fault. We have failed to do what we knew we should have done. We made a mistake and we didn’t understand how important it was.

“It’s interesting to see how something in print is important to this community. We as a board have to figure out and move forward with some professional help. “

“However it’s implemented, I can give advice throughout the process,” Leatherman added. “This is a good time to get information out before the kids are out for summer and we’re in full campaign season. Now more than ever it’s important to communicate. It’s all about communication.”

Board member Jeff Lindeman wanted to add potentially consulting with Todd Rapp of Rapp Strategies to the working session agenda to help understand their cost and what they can bring.

Rapp Strategies is a consulting firm that helps communicate the district’s vision to the community. They were considered by the district when they first started talking about going for a publicly-funded levy last June, but at the time, Lindeman said he was not in favor of spending more consulting dollars after the survey.

“I was fairly opposed to that and was outspoken but there’s been a couple things just recently and I’ve heard nothing but widespread support for Todd Rapp. I think they are worth pursuing and I didn’t know it before,” Lindeman said.

The board directed Superintendent Dean Jennissen to reach our to  Rapp and check on his availability going forward. They will vote on if they will go for the full levy during the regular April 21 board meeting, but will hopefully meet with Rapp during one of their special meetings. (April 6 or 14.)

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