Columbia Heights School Board looks at findings from survey for referendum support

The Columbia Heights School Board received findings from a recent community survey to gage support for a bond referendum to assist with school projects in the future.

Public sector advisor company Springsted administered the survey to 340 residents within the Columbia Heights School District in early April. Don Lifto and Kelly Smith of Springsted presented the information at the May 23 school board meeting.

The survey was administered through telephone and interviewed residents on a random basis in the district. These residents were randomly selected by several demographic characteristics to ensure that the sample size accurately represented the demographics of all registered voters in the district. The demographics were based on gender, geographic location, past voting activity, and parent versus non-parent households. The survey was also given an approximate margin of error of + or – 5.3 percent.

The survey began by gathering initial support from a general statement on the needs in the district, without the mention of taxes.

The statement read: “The district needs to raise local funds to improve classrooms, building entrances, and parking at North Park Elementary and to upgrade the performing arts facilities at the high school. To do so, the district may ask voters to approve a local school bond referendum.”

Participants were 69 percent in favor of this statement.

The statement was followed by eight to a dozen more specific pieces of information, asking if participants would be more or less likely to vote for the initial proposal.

Nine of the elements were presented in the context of improvements that the district could make if additional funding was made available.

Seven of these elements were in regard to North Park Elementary improvements and two elements were for improvements at the high school.

The four improvements that tested most positively included North Park library renovations, the high school performing arts center, North Park bus loading area and high school support spaces for theater, band and choir. The element with the least amount of support was the separate gym and cafeteria areas at North Park.

Participants were also asked specifically about the Columbia Heights performing arts center and if they believe that it contributes to the quality of life in the community.

Of the participants surveyed, 48 percent agreed that it adds ‘a lot’ to the quality of life and 36 percent answered ‘some.’

“If you put those numbers together, an overwhelming majority of people see this as a community asset,” Lifto said.

Following the information presented, the survey measured an “informed benchmark” of support. Compared to the initial support of 69.1 percent, informed support was raised to 72.4 percent.

The survey then measured the proposal with cost information and the impact of a potential tax increase. Participants were asked if they would be in favor of a $50, $60 or $70 tax increase for an average priced home at $125,000.

Lifto said there were healthy levels of support, between 64.4 and 66.8 percent, at the $50 and $60 tax impact, but dropped when participants considered a $70 impact to 54.7 percent. Because of this reason, Springsted recommended that the annual tax impact be kept at $65 or less for an average priced home.

Overall, the survey found that there was support for the projects well above the margin of error. Informing participants more about the projects slightly improved likelihood of support, although this impact was minor because of the high percentage of initial support.

Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]