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School poll gets a meager response

March 26, 2001

School poll gets a meager response



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Less than 1,000 people called the Washington County Board of Education's weeklong telephone survey to rank its list of 2002 operating budget priorities.

While most of those who called agreed with the budget priorities, many didn't think it was important for the school system to attract qualified athletic officials. Officials are slated for a $7,971 increase in the board's proposed $127.4 million operating budget.

The board's total budget, which includes restricted grant money, special revenue and it's Capital Improvement Plan funds is expected to be about $155 million, school officials have said.

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Last year, the School Board received about 2,000 calls and was hoping to get about the same number this year, members have said. The poll cost $3,500.

"We were hoping that there would be a lot more," said School Board member Paul Bailey.

Of the 961 people who called, 603 were parents, 124 were parents who work for the school system, 83 were employees, 64 were residents, 61 were students, while the rest were either private school parents or classified as "other." Seventy percent, or 666 of the callers, fell into the 21-45 age range.

The callers were asked to rank how important the School Board's new money requests were on a scale of one to six. One meant the item was not important, while six meant the item was very important.

The board is seeking a $9.6 million increase, with $6.9 million being sought from Washington County.

The budget contains a list of new money requests, including $5.3 million for salary increases for all staff, $2.3 million for increases to health insurance rates, $896,000 for 16 replacement buses and $350,000 for utility cost increases.

Of callers who participated in the survey:

-- 73 percent said salary increases were important.

-- 59 percent said it was important to budget for health insurance rate increases.

-- 73 percent thought it was important to replace 16 school buses.

-- 76 percent said it was important to budget for utility cost increases.

-- 52 percent said it wasn't important to obtain qualified officials for sporting events.

The School Board said its sports officials' rates are not competitive with other areas and that an increase would be necessary to retain qualified referees and umpires. Officials have said they could go to neighboring counties and states and receive higher pay.

School Board member Roxanne Ober said the proposed increase for officials remains in the budget.

"We haven't changed that," Ober said. "It's something we want to consider after we review funding from the county."

Ober said the survey is a good way to involve the community in the budget process, but didn't know why there were fewer callers this year. She said the board began advertising the poll earlier last year, which could have been a reason why the response wasn't as great.

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