Lindbergh survey shows support for possible tax-rate increase

Lanane pleasantly surprised by telephone survey results.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Fifty-eight percent of respondents to a recent Lindbergh Schools telephone survey said they would support a tax-rate increase that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $95 per year.

The results of the telephone survey, conducted during April by Patron Insight of Stillwell, Kan., were scheduled to be presented to the Board of Education Tuesday night — after the Call went to press — by Ken DeSieghardt of Patron Insight.

A total of 400 registered voters in the district were interviewed for the survey, which carries a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

The survey report states, “When presented with three possible operating tax-levy proposals, support for the highest and middle numbers was cautious. But that support grew meaningfully at the lowest number — a $95 per year increase for the owner of a $200,000 home in the school district.”

The survey questions were structured so participants were asked about the highest possible tax-rate increase amount, which was $209 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

“Those who said they would either ‘strongly favor’ or ‘favor’ such a proposal skipped the other two tax questions, under the assumption that if they were supportive at this level, they would be supportive at a lower level as well,” the survey report states. “Those in opposition were then asked about a $152 per year increase in-stead. Once again, supporters skipped the final question, while those who were still in opposition were asked about a $95 per year increase.”

Forty-three percent of survey respondents said they would support a tax-rate increase that would cost the owner of a $200,000 home $209 per year while 48 percent of survey respondents said they would support a tax-rate increase that would cost that same homeowner $152 per year.

“However, support jumps meaningfully — to 58 percent — when those who support a $95 per year proposal are added to those who supported the other two levels,” the survey report states. “Considering the 5-percent error factor, that means that support ranges from 53 percent to 63 percent as of March 2010. While this is not overwhelming, it is a much more encouraging finding. Those still in opposition were asked: ‘Why?’ and most responded with concerns over the economy or a desire to not pay any more in taxes.

“This jump of 11 percent suggests that a substantive portion of patrons feel that the district has made its case and has — at the $95 level — pinpointed a number that they feel they can support, based on the information they have right now.”

Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane told the Call that the $95 per year increase would equal a 25-cent tax-rate increase, the $152 per year increase would equal a 40-cent tax-rate increase and the $209 per year increase would equal a 55-cent tax-rate increase.

“I actually was a little more pessimistic than the survey actually ended up being. I was not sure we would have any level over 50 percent …,” Lanane said. “That was heartening to see that and I’m really not surprised at the other two. Actually, they were a little higher than I thought. I thought those might be in the 30s.”

The survey report also noted that support within subgroups varied somewhat:

• All of the “student/past student,” et cetera groups were similarly supportive at the lowest tax level, but only those with a current Lindbergh student were modestly enthusiastic about the two higher levels as well.

• Age seemed to be a minimal factor in a patron’s opinion on the topic, although those 75 and older were the least supportive.

• No noticeable differences of opinion were noted based on the length of time a respondent had lived in the district.

• Some modest variations were noted by by ZIP code, with the combined ZIP code of 63026/63122 being the least supportive, and those in 63127 and 63128 being the most supportive.

“All of this data, combined with the strong affirmation of the district’s performance, suggests that patrons understand the challenges and want to be helpful, but will be counting on the school district to bring them a proposal they feel they can afford,” the survey report stated.

In March, the board agreed to proceed with a telephone survey to help determine whether to place a tax-rate increase on the November ballot. At that March 9 meeting, board members voted unanimously to give final approval to more than $4.7 million in reductions for the 2010-2011 school year.

The board’s action eliminated 60 positions, including 45 teaching positions. But even with the $4.7 million in reductions, the district still faces a $3 million budget shortfall next year as part of its long-range financial plan.

The district’s long-range financial plan calls for a spend down of its $24.6 million in reserves with a deficit-spending cap of $3 million per year. In June, the school board adopted a 2009-2010 operating budget that projected a deficit of $3 million. That $3 million deficit was reached by making more than $2 million in reductions for the current school year.

But a further decline in the assessed value of commercial real estate — including successful appeals by commercial property owners to the county Board of Equalization — increased the projected budget deficit for the current school year to roughly $5.1 million.

Officials plan to further utilize district reserves to cover the increased deficit, and projections indicate those reserves will drop to roughly $19.5 million at the end of the current school year. If reserves fall below roughly $13 million, the district would have to borrow money to operate.

The Board of Education voted unanimously last month to approve a salary and benefits package for the 2010-2011 school year that provides a 1-percent raise for teachers.

The revisions to the salary schedule and benefits package were approved by a roughly 9-to-1 margin by Lindbergh National Education Association teachers.

The more than $4.7 million in budget reductions approved by the Board of Education were premised on the possibility of a 2-percent salary increase, but the amount of the pay raise would be determined based on the outcome of negotiations between the school board and LNEA teachers.

All employees, including administrators, will receive the same salary increase as teachers.

By agreeing to a 1-percent pay increase, LNEA teachers sacrificed taking home more money in exchange for allowing six full-time classroom teaching positions — a total of seven teachers — to be reinstated.