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School pay top priority in phone poll

February 09, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Nearly half the callers who participated in a recent telephone survey rated competitive school salaries as very important, a higher percentage than six other budget items included in the poll.

Survey results released Tuesday show 1,938 people participated in the poll. Callers pressed keypad numbers to rank items in the Washington County Board of Education's budget on a scale of one to six.

Some 48 percent ranked salaries with a six, meaning "very important." No other item got as many highest responses, but 38 percent of the callers said improved technology access is very important.

Other budget items included in the poll were: high school reading teachers, payment for advanced placement tests, school counselors and math remediation programs.

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The School Board's proposal to pay half the cost of AP tests got the most "not important" responses, 13 percent.

The poll did not ask callers to rank the items in order. Separate questions asked them to rate the importance of each. But one question asked callers which one of three initiatives they support most.

Class-size reduction got 48 percent of the total while hiring the best teachers got 45 percent. The top priority for the remaining 7 percent was restoring foreign language teaching to the middle schools.

Another question asked, "How important is it to make education a top priority in Washington County in the next budget?" Of the callers, 76 percent ranked it very important.

The first question asked callers to identify themselves by category. Most were residents with children, about 58 percent.

Another 25 percent of the callers were School Board employees and 10 percent were residents without children. Students made up 7 percent of the total. The final question asked if the poll was convenient and 97 percent replied it was.

The School Board paid a company $3,500 to conduct the telephone poll and deliver a final report based on the responses. Community Relations Specialist Donna Messina gave the results to the board Tuesday night.

Some residents criticized the survey. School Board candidate Russell Williams said the question about the importance of education would yield no information.

He suggested asking if people would consent to raised taxes for more education spending instead. The results could be given to the County Commissioners. "That would be a more powerful statement," he said.

Rose Wood said the question that asked people which one of three initiatives they support was negative because it pits programs against each other. She said many parents advocate quality education overall, including all three initiatives.

The School Board pledged to use the results of the survey during budget work sessions. The board will adopt any changes Tuesday before presenting a final draft to the County Commissioners Feb. 28.

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