Jay Miller and Sue Groves Talk about Their School Levy Survey
County residents Jay Miller and Sue Groves, along with Michelle Jeffers conducted a survey to learn why the Pocahontas County School Levy failed in the 2016 General Election and published the results of the survey in June. They conducted the survey despite not receiving the support of the Pocahontas Board of Education to do so.
Jay is a retired Program Manager at the F.B. I. and a former Economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics while Sue served for 30 years as an Economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics specializing in surveys. We interviewed Jay and Sue about the survey.
Jay, what made you want to understand why the 2016 School Levy failed?
“In the aftermath of the school levy proposals failing by a margin of 2 to 1 in both the 2014 and the 2016 elections, it was important to understand why they both failed- even though they were for very different purposes” replied Jay. “I believe the schools need more money and that we need to change the conversation between school administration and the public if we’re to have any hope of changing voters’ minds about increasing property taxes to support the schools.”
Sue, what were you hoping to accomplish by conducting this survey?
“I spent my career collecting and analyzing and disseminating data” said Sue. And so I believe in the power of good information in good decision making. I hope this study can be useful in thinking about the future of schools in Pocahontas County.”
Well, how did you conduct the study? How many people participated?
“A total of 210 people provided information on a one page questionnaire which asked for their feelings about the purposes of the proposed levy and why they thought it failed” Sue said. “It was done in really three parts. We conducted focus groups with several community organizations. We then sent the questionnaire to school employees, about half of whom responded. And then finally we mailed the questionnaires to 450 county residents who voted in the 2016 election – of those we received more than 100 replies from the mail survey, which is a respectable response rate given that we weren’t using incentives and there was no non-response follow-up.”
What were the major findings of this survey Jay?
“Most respondents supported improvements to the Elementary-Middle School in Green Bank as well as to the High School” Jay said. “The general feeling was that the levy failed because of a lack of trust and confidence in the Board of Education, Superintendent and the central office staff to act in what people consider the best interests of the schools, teachers and students. There was serious misgiving about whether money would be spent for the intended purposes. Respondents who both favored and opposed the levy expressed disappointment and sadness that the lack of a serious maintenance budget over the years that (has) resulted in school buildings that are now considered to be crumbling and not repairable. People don’t like the idea of throwing away buildings that are the same age or younger than the houses they live in.”
Did you find anything that surprised you?
“We were surprised that a majority of respondents, regardless of whether they voted for or against the levy, are opposed to sending 7th and 8th grade students to the high school” Jay answered. “This feeling was extremely strong among respondents who voted against the levy. For many voters, this could be a single issue that may doom any future levy proposal that includes it.”
Based upon the results, what do you think the school board should do differently they seem to have with the public?
“The school board and the Superintendent need to change the way they interact with the public” Jay said. “And welcome and involve the public during the planning phase of any major initiatives. The school levy in 2016 became a problem of selling a proposal to the public after the proposal had already been submitted to the SBA, and it just didn’t work.”
Below you will find a link to the full survey report