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TWINSBURG -- More than half of the 353 residents in the Twinsburg City School District who completed a recent phone survey said they would support a new, continuing 6.9-mill levy in the coming year, according to information from the TRIAD Research Group.
Kathy Severinski of TRIAD Research Group, based in Westlake, said 353 registered voters, plus 52 parents with children in the schools, completed a 30-question telephone survey, requested by the Board of Education. A 6.9-mill levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $241.50 per year, and generate about $5.52 million per year for the district, according to school officials.
Severinski offered the results of the survey during a Dec. 28 work session.
Voters were asked twice whether they would support an additional 6.9-mill operating levy. The percentage of those surveyed who said they would be "definitely for" or "probably for" a new levy jumped from 59 percent to 65 percent between the two questions, while those who were "probably against" or "definitely against" the levy dropped from 31 percent to 29 percent between the two times they were asked.
"A lot of those people against the levy are those who said they are generally against taxes," Severinski said. "[There were] those who said 'no new taxes,' or 'I can't afford this.'"
The phone survey was a followup to a series of focus groups that the school district sponsored in October, when more than 300 people offered feedback on a possible new levy and other issues, from capital improvements to the expansion of preschool programming. Only completed surveys were counted, Severinski said.
Without new money, school officials say the district will be deficit spending by 2020, according to the district's 5-year forecast. One major reason for this projection, school officials say, is the loss of $4.6 million from the state due to the elimination of the CAT tax.
Upon Severinski's recommendation, expect the school district to stress the loss of this state revenue if it decides to put a new levy before voters in the coming year. The sooner the district can work on educating its voters, the better, Severinski said.
"Campaigning has changed a lot," she said. "Early voting has changed a lot. You need to get to the voters before they send in that early ballot."
Patti Koslo of K Communications agreed, adding that face-to-face interaction is still the strongest way to get the district's message across.
"Going to neighborhoods is more important than fliers," Koslo said. "There are people who, when they get their mail, the first thing they do is put the campaign stuff in the recycle bin. Campaigning has changed a lot."
Board of Education President Rob Felber said information gleaned from the telephone surveys "will help us focus our campaign."
"We can reap the benefits of social media," Felber said.
Superintendent Kathryn Powers said the survey results can be used for other purposes beyond the levy.
"We were asking for information on the school district in general," he said. "Not just the levy. We will use this data beyond what it tells us about the levy."
Survey questions also included expansion of the preschool program and providing laptops or tablets for students.
One question referenced a proposal for two new programs: expanding access to the district's preschool program to more 4-year-olds, and providing laptops or tablets for students in grades seven through 12.
According to the survey, 62 percent of those questioned either "strongly favored" or "favored" expanding the preschool program, and 59 percent either "strongly favored" or "favored" providing laptops or tablets to students in grades seven through 12.
Powers said that if the program to give laptops or tablets to the older students was approved, the district could implement it for grades seven through nine in the first year, and then 7 through 12 in the second year. This phase-in would help with budgeting and with rotating out older equipment and purchasing new, she said.
"This way, we won't have to replace [the equipment] all at once," Powers said.
If the program to increase preschool access is implemented, Powers said that 40 children "would qualify for Head Start, but don't have the transportation available to get to Macedonia."
"If they were enrolled in preschool here, they would use our transportation to get to Wilcox (Primary School)," Powers said.
Board Vice President Mark Curtis said that early education "is a huge focus, not just here."
"There's a push to invest dollars in early education, before kindergarten," Curtis said. "I think we are doing what we feel is necessary. I feel it's either pay now or pay later."
Board member Kathy Turle-Waldron questioned whether the district might be better off using its operating funds on helping to decrease class sizes.
"Why are we looking at taking on these challenges when money is already tight?" she asked. "I absolutely love the idea of the preschool access, but I don't want to take on something more than we can manage. I've been hearing for years about classroom sizes, and we haven't made any adjustments in those as far as I am aware."
Any tax measure --- whether for additional money or a renewal levy (an operating levy that generates $4.6 million for the district is also up for renewal in 2017) --- requires the district to submit paperwork to the state tax commission by Jan. 22 and to the Summit County Board of Elections by Feb. 1, according to Marty Aho, school treasurer.
The school Board on Jan. 4 (its next regular meeting) could address an ordinance that, if passed, would be sent to the Summit County Board of Elections for review of appropriate funding and millage, then sent back to the district.
The Board then needs to pass further legislation to place the measure on the ballot.