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School survey: Now is not a good time to ask for tax increase

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A survey conducted on behalf of Delta County Joint School District #50 indicates now is not the best time to ask voters for a mill levy increase. The survey was conducted by EIS Solutions in late April, and consisted of telephone calls, texts and emails.

EIS' Seth Cahalan and Brad McCloud presented survey findings at the school board's May 13 work session. While data indicates public support does not reach the "critical mass" needed to assure a successful outcome in the November election, it does indicate a clear path for the school district to follow moving forward. Most importantly, they said, the community must be better educated on the benefits and challenges of the transportation of students, the need for capital security projects and the benefit of school counselors.

During the survey, respondents were educated about the aging bus fleet, the number of route miles covered each day, the role of school counselors and the fact that per-pupil funding for Delta County falls short of the average. While these "messages" were somewhat effective, they did not change respondents' opinions significantly. Just 48 percent said they would support a tax increase of 4 mills to fund transportation, school security and school counselors.

Survey results were broken down by respondents' age bracket, political affiliation, whether they had children in school or not, and area of the county in which they lived -- Delta/Cedaredge or Hotchkiss/Paonia/Crawford.

For a campaign to succeed, McCloud said the school district needs to be sure its teachers, support staff and parents are energized and passionate about the effort, because they'll be the ones knocking on doors and educating voters who have no connection to schools, those who are older or perhaps recent transplants.

The "political climate" will also figure into the school board's decision on whether to move forward or not. School board member Jill Jurca commented on a striking increase in property tax valuations, which have angered many taxpayers. It was also noted that the county will be asking for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety, and the library district is also contemplating a tax question. When faced with multiple tax questions, McCloud said voters often wind up choosing one or the other, but not all. He also commented on the median income of Delta County residents, which continues to lag neighboring counties.

While disappointed in the results, because she recognizes the need for additional funding, superintendent Caryn Gibson said the survey does provide valuable information. "The poll shows we've done our homework and we're listening to our taxpayers," she said.

Of the three areas targeted in the survey transportation received the most support and that could be an area of focus for a future ballot question. As for school security, most respondents voiced a preference for school resource officers which could be funded -- at least partially -- through the county's public safety tax, if it's approved by voters.

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