Voter survey shows support for a Mehlville bond issue

Survey conducted every year since 2014; survey takers are from Oakville


By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Despite concerns from some Mehlville Board of Education members about placing a bond issue on an upcoming ballot during a period of economic uncertainty, a survey shows that most voters are in favor of such a measure.

In a scientific telephone survey conducted by Springfield-based company Opinion Research Specialists the second week of November, 67 percent of the 401 frequent voters polled in the district said that they would vote in favor of a no-tax-rate-increase bond issue on the April 2021 ballot.

A bond issue requires a 57.1-percent “yes” vote in order to pass.

A survey of frequent voters is the best way to conduct a scientific survey of district residents, since voting records give the most reliable sample available of people who live in the district, then-Superintendent Norm Ridder said when the district first conducted that type of survey with Opinion Research Specialists in 2014.

The measure, tentatively called Proposition S since it focuses on secure entries to schools, would be used to fund facility and security improvements in the district’s buildings. Those improvements are recommended by a Facilities Steering Committee that spent all of 2019 and some of 2020 touring 19 district facilities and prioritizing facility needs in those buildings.

The $35 million bond issue would be funded by funneling 12 cents of the 45 cents the district currently levies from Proposition P, passed in 2000, into facility investments. The district would use the remaining 33 cents of the levy to fund operations.

Of the 67 percent of those who responded favorably, 47 percent said they were strongly in favor, while 20 percent said they were somewhat in favor.

The survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent with a 95-percent confidence interval.

“A frequent voter is defined as someone who has voted in one of the past two April elections since April elections always have school issues on the ballot,” said Communications Director Jessica Pupillo at the Dec. 17 Board of Education meeting. “This is the fourth time we’ve surveyed this audience since 2014 so we can see change over time.”

Support for a no-tax-rate-increase bond measure was strongest among families with children in Mehlville schools, with 84 percent strongly in favor, followed by an 81-percent tie between residents ages 18-59 years old and those who work for the district.

Support was lowest among male survey participants, with 59 percent strongly in favor and 26 percent strongly opposed, followed by those aged 60 to 74 at 60 percent in favor and 25 percent unopposed. Survey respondents with no child in the district were also 60 percent in favor, however 22 percent would be opposed to such a measure, while 18 percent were undecided.

“Our lowest group would still favor a bond issue enough to pass that if those numbers hold true,” said Pupillo.

The board voted last week to place the 12-cent bond issue on the April ballot.

A majority of respondents were from the Oakville ZIP code, 63129, at 59 percent, with 21 percent from the “Mehlville” ZIP code, defined as 63125, and 20 percent were from 63128 or 63123.

The board declined to take a vote last August to place a measure on the November ballot, citing concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic would pose a communications challenge getting the message out. Others thought that despite the fact it would not raise tax rates, it could still be seen as tone deaf to place a bond issue on the ballot during a period of unprecedented economic uncertainty.

Additional information collected from the survey showed that 91 percent felt that they were informed about important school district issues, the same number as 2018 and up from 88 percent in 2016.

“We’ve seen some growth in response to that question … that’s the same as 2018, but more of the respondents said they were very satisfied” compared to somewhat satisfied, said Pupillo.

This was also the second time the district asked how satisfied respondents felt that the district was providing a safe and secure environment for students, with 94 percent responding that they were satisfied, the same as the first time the question was raised in 2018.

The district also saw significant growth in financial stewardship satisfaction, with 41 percent of respondents stating they were highly satisfied with how Mehlville spends tax dollars, up from 26 percent in 2018 and 22 percent in 2016. Overall, 79 percent of respondents were satisfied with the district’s spending — the highest satisfaction rating since polling started.

“I think (it’s) a celebration for all of us, that the public is confident in how we are spending tax dollars,” said Pupillo.

The results of the survey also help shape the district’s next version of the strategic plan, which the board is set to discuss in the coming month. 

Feedback gathered from parents, students and the community throughout the past year shows that student safety and personalization are key themes, which relates to the facilities bond measure since the funds would be used to update the district’s facilities with the addition of secure entry vestibules, among other improvements.