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Maple survey pinpoints key referendum voters

One of the slides from a public survey of Maple School District residents show the breakdown of non-parents to parents. School board members are mulling a five-year operational referendum of up to $1.7 million for the spring ballot, and survey results may help them decide. The entire survey can be found online at www.nw-tigers.org. Courtesy of School Perceptions

Survey results released Monday have Maple School Board members mulling the district's future financial options.

The School Perceptions survey, taken by district residents in October, was aimed at gauging support for a five-year operational referendum of up to $1.7 million per year. About 19 percent of district residents — 1,032 — responded. The highest representation was from Lake Nebagamon, with Amnicon, Iron River, Poplar and Maple rounding out the top five municipalities responding.

Sue Peterson, with Slinger-based School Perceptions, said she felt confident about the results based on the response rate.

"Fifteen to 18 percent is average, so we knew we have a good, statistical snapshot of the community," Peterson said during Monday's regular board meeting.

She also pinpointed the key demographic for the board to consider — residents with no students attending Maple schools who do not work for the district. They make up 75 percent of the community and were represented by the color purple.

"You need a majority in that purple group to get a 'Yes' at the polls," Peterson said.

Only 26 percent of that demographic supported a $576,000 operational referendum to maintain current programs and services. Their top options for cutting costs included increasing the student fee schedule, reducing athletics and activities, and increasing middle and high school class sizes.

The survey asked respondents what amount they would support annually for specific district needs.

The only question the non-parent demographic supported by a majority — 51 percent — was $30,000 per year to enhance the district's industrial education and shop courses.

Only 36 percent would support $55,000 annually to improve access to technology; 35 percent gave a thumbs up to $130,000 a year to fund updating curriculum and textbooks; 33 percent would support $607,000 per year to retain high-quality staff; 31 percent would support both $70,000 annually for safety, security and equipment needs and $232,000 per year for bus replacement.

A referendum would need to be less than $900,000 annually to snag the support of a majority of that non-parent resident demographic, according to the survey.

Peterson said changing the referendum from a five-year to a three-year would lower referendum numbers since the most expensive years, particularly for staff retention, would be the final two.

"The reality is your needs aren't going to sunset in three years," Peterson said, but "Across the state, as many districts are going for three-year referendum as five-year."

Board President Kim Pearson asked for options to make an impact with those key voters.

This could be a communication opportunity, Peterson said. The non-parent group believed the district was only doing a fair job of keeping the public informed, survey results showed.

The majority of that group, 61 percent, noted that they would like to receive district information by direct mailings. They were also keen to receive information via school newsletters (38 percent), the district website (30 percent) and local newspapers (28 and 18 percent).

The school board will decide whether to bring a referendum to the public, and how much to ask for, at its Dec. 11 meeting, which begins at 5 p.m.

Full survey results can be found online at www.nw-tigers.org or the School District of Maple Facebook page.

The school board also:

* Approved $30,000 in matching school district funds to apply for a $25,000 Fab Lab grant.

* Approved three overnight wrestling tournaments, including one in which students would stay with wrestlers' families in Ellsworth.

* Approved a proposal by Transportation Director Lester Wiese to allow advertisements on the sides of two white propane trip buses. The bus billboards could net the district as much as $12,800 annually.

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