Lindbergh survey identifies clear favorite of Sperreng options

Board established task force last fall to study space issues at middle school

Bill+Milligan+photo

Bill Milligan photo

By MIKE ANTHONY

A clear favorite of three options to ease space concerns at Sperreng Middle School emerged from a recent telephone survey of Lindbergh School District residents.

Ken DeSieghardt of Patron Insight, which conducted the telephone survey, told Board of Education members last week that of the three options, one proposal “was, based on the patrons that we talked to, very clearly the favorite …”

That proposal would retain Sperreng as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, convert Truman Elementary School to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, add onto Crestwood and Long elementary schools, convert Concord School to an elementary school and either construct or buy a new building to relocate the district’s early childhood education, or ECE, program from Concord School.

The estimated cost, including projects identified as critical by officials and proposed security projects, is nearly $31 million. This was called Option A in the survey.

DeSieghardt noted that survey respondents were told this option “would leave the district with the same number of elementary schools it has today — all without any additional taxes. Eighty-six percent called it excellent or good … (and said) It doesn’t require any new taxes. We need two middle schools and the plan would use facilities the district already has. So (it’s a) frugal, cost-sensitive, good solid plan in the eyes of the patrons.

“The ones who weren’t so excited about it said: Well, I don’t think we need a new middle school and we don’t need to move ECE. So that’s sort of either you believe that you are crowded and you need more space and the ECE should be moved or you don’t,” he said.

“When asked how they would vote if that happened to be the one that was chosen, 82 percent said I would strongly favor or favor. And because — just as a point of reminder — because we are dealing in speculation here: We’re thinking about this. We’re talking to you. We’re asking you and presenting some ideas. We don’t say: Would you vote yes? Would you vote no? It’s right now, how do you feel? So that’s why we used strongly favor, favor, oppose or strongly oppose,” DeSieghardt said.

The Board of Education voted last month to authorize the administration to contract with Patron Insight for the development, administration and analysis of the survey on three proposals at a cost not to exceed $14,300.

Results for the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, were gathered from 400 randomly selected residents. Respondents were required to be registered voters who had cast ballots in at least one of the last three school-related elections and had to be either a male or female head of the household.

Board members voted unanimously in October to establish a Demographic Task Force comprised of parents, residents and staff members to recommend long-term options to address space concerns at Sperreng, which has an enrollment of 1,321 pupils while the ideal size for a middle school serving grades six through eight is 600 to 800 pupils.

The 53-member Demographic Task Force presented six options to the school board, which later were whittled down to three choices, including the one favored by survey respondents. The other two options were:

• Converting Sperreng and Truman Elementary School to fifth- through eighth-grade middle schools, adding onto Crest-wood and Long elementary schools, converting Concord School to an elementary school and either constructing or buying a new building to relocate the ECE program from Concord School. The estimated cost, including projects identified as critical by officials and proposed security projects, is $27.3 million. This was Option B in the survey.

• Retaining Sperreng as a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, converting Truman Elementary to a sixth- through eighth-grade middle school, adding onto Crestwood and Long elementary schools and building a new elementary school. The estimated cost, including projects identified as critical by officials and proposed security projects, is $44.3 million. This was called Option C in the survey.

During a work session in late May, administrators proposed Option C, one that had been recommended by the task force, but initially rejected by the school board primarily because the projected cost would exceed the district’s ability to place a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue on the ballot.

The school district’s current bonding capacity is $31 million.

DeSieghardt told board members July 16 that Option B “was judged excellent or good by 29 percent of the folks and fair or poor by 63 percent. The ones who liked it said: Well, it won’t increase taxes. It costs less. The ones who didn’t like it pretty strongly said that they didn’t believe fifth-graders belonged in middle school — 202 out of the people who participated. But think in terms in this case of 202 out of 400. So slightly more than half overall said: I don’t think that’s a good idea.

“When asked how they would vote if the district picked that one, 25 percent said they would favor or strongly favor. Fifty-seven percent were opposed or strongly opposed and the rest were: I don’t know. I’ve got to think about it …”

“The least popular choice” of the three was Option C, he said.

“… We had 11 percent that said that was either excellent or good and 82 percent said it was fair or poor,” DeSieghardt said. “And the No. 1 reason really was: It’s expensive. We’re talking about a tax increase here whereas the other plans did not involve a tax increase. So you’re hearing these messages sort of over and over again — using existing buildings, sensible use of dollars, those kinds of things.

“When asked how they would vote if the district chose C, 9 percent said they would strongly favor or favor and 79 percent said oppose or strongly oppose …”

Board Secretary Janine Fabick said she was pleased with the survey and the results, noting the process began with 54 options.

“… I feel really good that the community has resoundingly picked an option that they are comfortable with because that’s wonderful — that we could start with 54 and we’ve come down and everybody can embrace an option and feel good about the option … I think this was such a powerful tool and it was a good tool …,” she said.