District 200 reviews results of community survey
Pursuing a feasibility study for a capital campaign and further clarifying to the community that early childhood education for special-needs students is required by law were a few ideas discussed Wednesday after the Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 board was presented with results from a recent community survey.
The survey was conducted over the phone and online in September to get residents' opinions on $154 million worth of proposed school improvements and funding options for the work, including a tax increase.
Ken DeSieghardt of Patron Insight, the company that conducted the survey, said the telephone survey was given to 400 randomly selected registered voters within the district. Participants included 146 people with students currently in the district, 155 who had kids in the district in the past and 99 who have never had a child in the district.
In addition, 390 people took the online survey, which DeSieghardt said had results similar to the phone survey's.
Overall, in the phone survey, at least 50 percent of participants were supportive of many of the proposed school improvements, including mechanical upgrades, updated library learning centers at the elementary schools and a technology lab renovation at Wheaton North High School.
However, other projects, like a performing arts center at Monroe Middle School and, especially, a solution to issues at the Early Childhood Center, had more opposition. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax increase to finance a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center in 2013.
"My interpretation of that is there's still some discomfort and memories that are uncomfortable for some folks," DeSieghardt said. "Early learning is very hard to gather momentum on because it affects a small segment of the community, and so you have those people who say it doesn't affect me or been there, done that."
More than 60 percent of phone survey participants said they were more likely or somewhat more likely to vote in favor of a tax increase if they knew the district was getting some outside support or had a capital campaign set up to raise funding from private donors.
Participants were split when it came to questions about how much they would be willing to pay to fund the projects. A tax increase of $225 for a $325,000 home -- the median value in the district -- got "strongly favor" or "favor" responses from 51 percent of people surveyed on the phone. Those in favor increased to 54 percent when the cost was lowered to $200, and to 58 percent when the cost went down to $175.
DeSieghardt added that it was made clear to participants that as the cost fell, fewer projects would be able to be completed.
"Finances will be very important to folks as they make their decision," he said.
Superintendent Jeff Schuler said a feasibility study for a capital campaign has been touched on by the finance committee but not fully pursued.
"I think there are some elements in the survey that likely, by committee, we ought to dive into," he said, adding that the finance, facilities and community engagement committees will take a look at the survey responses during their upcoming meetings.
Board member Joann Coghill asked if an explanation of the early childhood center was provided during the phone interviews because she is worried people think it is just as a preschool or day care.
DeSieghardt said it was not, but it's a matter of communication the district will have to consider moving forward.
"This (survey) is not something that says get rid of (the Early Childhood Center); this is something that says study it," he said.