School survey: What do voters want?

The less a high school remodel costs, the more likely Oak Harbor voters are to support it.

That was one of the conclusions from a telephone survey recently conducted for the school district by Market Trend, Inc., a survey company in Seattle.

After two failed attempts to pass a high school remodel bond this year, the Oak Harbor School Board decided to survey community members to hear their thoughts on what they wanted in a new high school, and what it would take to pass a bond to fund it. The board felt the survey, at approximately $8,000, would be money well spent. The two bond efforts cost the district close to $55,000 in election costs.

Out of 1,696 phone calls to ask a series of questions, 251 people did not say no thanks, hang up, or not answer. Market Trend Project Manager Devon Hensleigh said the 251 person sample was large enough to be representative of Oak Harbor voters, and that the survey has an error rate of plus or minus 6.31 percent.

Rick Schulte, schools superintendent, said the survey held no surprises for him or the board.

“It confirmed some thoughts that I and the board shared, such as breaking the proposal into parts,” he said.

Less cost,

more votes

The random phone survey found that as the cost of the bond rose, support for it fell.

Sixty percent of those who said they voted against the bond said they did so because the cost, at $45 million, was too high. That proposal included a sports complex and performing arts center; elements which proved controversial and perhaps fatal. Respondents were more likely to vote for the bond if the athletic complex was separate.

The $45 million proposal had a 36 percent support level, while at $38 million it rose to 39 percent, then 42 percent at $25 million, and 45 percent for a $15 million “minimal life and safety code requirements” level.

None of these levels would be enough to pass a bond, as it requires a supermajority of 60 percent of registered voters to pass. Both failed attempts netted more than 50 percent yes votes, but fell short of 60 percent.

Related to the cost of the project, respondents said getting the lowest tax rate possible was the most influential factor, followed by obtaining a constant tax rate over the life of the bond.

Need-based bond has more support

As for reasons for remodeling, 31 percent said alleviating overcrowding was the most important, followed by improving facilities, at 24 percent. Replacing the roof was seen as the greatest facility need.

While the school board cited upgrading technology and improving safety and security as major reasons for their remodel plan, survey respondents ranked them at 20 percent or below as the most important improvements.

Survey participants said they would be more likely to vote for a bond that focused on the greatest needs. Improving facilities garnered 69 percent support, improving safety and security 62 percent, and alleviating overcrowding 56 percent.

Support for the bond seemed to be split along income levels, as families with incomes of $50,000 or above were “significantly more apt” to support the $45 million option, compared to those who do not have children and those with incomes of less than $50,000. This difference was not noticeable at the lower bond levels.

Oak Harbor schools have a high percentage of low-income families. District-wide the rate is about 33 percent, with some schools close to 50 percent.

How to get the word out

Distributing information about the bond to the voters has been an ongoing issue for the school district. In spite of numerous forums held to gather community input, after the bond failures many people felt they were not informed about the project.

The survey found that 58 percent of voters preferred to get their information from newspapers, with 26 percent specifically citing the Whidbey News-Times as their main bond information source.

While the school district opted to save money and not publish a voters pamphlet for the May election, the survey found 41 percent of voters preferred to obtain information from that source.

“Based on that observation, voter pamphlets may prove to be a valuable vehicle for communicating information about Oak Harbor Schools,” according to the survey.

The survey noted that 38 percent of respondents with children in Oak Harbor schools are significantly more likely to prefer receiving bond information via e-mail, while of those without children, only 10 percent preferred e-mail.

In asking survey participants to name community members whom they felt were “most credible,” Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen came out on top, with a 25 percent rating. Teachers came in second with 23 percent, Schulte and the school board were tied at 17 percent, and citizens and community members in general were chosen by 14 percent of those surveyed.

Stadium bond idea surveyed

Respondents were also asked a few questions about a proposed stadium bond. Although the location of a new stadium has been a divisive point at community meetings, the survey found that location had little effect on whether respondents would support a stadium bond. However, the high school site was favored by 45 percent, versus 31 percent for the traditional Memorial Field location.

Again, the higher the cost, the lower the support. Forty-five percent were “very likely” to support a $1 million proposal; 41 percent would probably vote for a $2 million proposal, 38 percent would consider a $4 million project, and 34 percent would “very likely” support a $6 million stadium bond.

Schulte said a school bond election this school year is “not remotely a possibility,” but that the school board will begin holding public meetings after the first of the year to work on a new plan.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at or call 675-6611

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