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Region 15 Voters Would Accept Increased Budget for Heightened Security

Residents oppose eliminating freshman and middle school sports, and reducing staff due to lower enrolment in 2013 Community Budget Survey.

The results of the Region 15 Community Budget Survey have been released and residents across Southbury and Middlebury produced clear answers on matters such as school security and staffing.

The survey was developed to gauge residents’ opinions regarding the Region 15 2013-14 School Budget. 639 residents finished the survey, according the region.

73 percent of respondents said they would pay an additional $700,000 to increase security measures at regional schools. Many though, did not approve of a cut in academic and afterschool programs in order to pay for the security enhancements.

84 percent of survey takers said they voted on the budget in the past three to five years. Of those who voted, over 80 percent said they review the budget details rather than look at the percent increase when voting.

The following is an overview of the survey results, according to Region 15:

Survey Question #1: District Mission

73% of respondents said that School Safety was essential to the District’s mission. Participants placed the remaining items as Very Important and Worth Preserving. The only topic that was rated as Non Essential was Elementary World Language.

Survey Question #2 & #3: Voting History

84% of respondents voted in the Budget Referendum within the last 3-5 years. 38% of those who did not vote are not registered voters/citizens. Some people felt their vote did not really count or let their spouse’s vote represent both of them. Written responders who have young children not yet in Region 15 schools claim to not see the need to vote until the child is enrolled. No one claimed to have transportation issues.

Survey Question #4: Vote Motivation

56% are motivated to vote by a concern of the addition, reduction or elimination of school programs. While only 9% are motivated by extracurricular activities, respondents state that they are most motivated by a combination of the addition/elimination of BOTH programs as well as extracurricular activities for children.

Survey Question #5: Communication

The manner in which Survey Monkey created the Ranking Question, a few people were confused by how the system arranged the numbers 1-10.The question was also not clear as to if “1” was best or worse in the ranking scale. Therefore, I would not put too much credence in these responses.

That being said:

Respondents stated that the School/District Website and Emails from PTO/Principals were their best source of budget information.

Survey Questions #6 & #7: BOE Transparency

Half of all respondents feel that the BOE has offered transparency in the budget process. Written responses include concerns that the BOE already has its mind made up, BOE meetings are uncomfortable, some issues (teacher contracts, redistricting) are not open. When asked about level of transparency, 70% state that the BOE is either very or somewhat open and transparent.  Only 4% believe the BOE is not open at all. Some respondents wonder why Teacher Negotiations/Contract are only announced once it is passed, why Personnel issues are no longer on the agenda, and level of detail re: security should not be publicized.

Survey Question #8: Budget Options

84% state they review the budget details and vote accordingly, rather than look at a percent increase.

Survey Question #9 & 10: Security

73% of respondents would pay an additional $700,000 to pay for school security enhancements. 82% do not wish a $700,000 cut in academic/afterschool programs in order to pay for school security enhancements.

42% of respondents would support a 4% increase, if security is funded. 34% would support a 3% increase. Notably, 15% do not support a budget increase. Comments include concerns about what additional security means and if it costs that much.

Survey Question #11: Program Support

Oppose:

Reduce staff due to lower enrollment, potentially increasing class sizes:
30.2% Oppose/42.4%Strongly Oppose

Eliminate 5th grade band/orchestra programs:
41.8% Oppose/21.0%Strongly Oppose

Reduce or eliminate freshman and/or middle school sports:
39.9% Oppose/41.2%Strongly Oppose

Add a new world language at PHS:
27.6% Oppose/24.2%Strongly Oppose

Split:

Reduce or eliminate low-enrolled music programs:
Half Oppose/Half Support

Eliminate low-enrolled AP classes:
Half Oppose/Half Support

Increase interscholastic pay-for-participate costs, student parking fees:
Half Oppose/Half Support

Support:

Increase security measures (police presence, building infrastructure):
43.4% Support/39.6% Strongly Support

Increase technology K-12 (laptops, tablets):
45.4% Support/27.5% Strongly Support

Respondents believe that luxury item fees should be increased (parking) but keep fine arts/extracurricular activity fees low to encourage student involvement. Suggestions about decreasing administrators (not teachers) and administrative costs. Public still does not understand state rules about transportation. Respondents are looking for R15 to be creative, including utilizing more grants, involving the community/corporate, and partnering with other districts/consortium.

Survey Question #12: Technology

73% support systemic technology upgrades as long as it supports curriculum. Many respondents support BYOD, a five-year hardware leasing program, return of elementary tech teachers, and staff training.

Survey Question #13: Overall Budget Support

43% support a 4% increase

27% support a 3% increase

15% support a 2% increase

15% support a 0% increase

Of course many respondents wanted more financial details on the budget before making a commitment. A few respondents requested a budget decrease. Some requested a budget increase only if the money were going to a specific line item, e.g. armed security, student education and not toward other items, eg. staff benefits, salaries, pensions, excess administrators

Survey Question #14: Final Comments

“Tough times, tough decisions. I guess the message is to try and keep the kids in mind at all times. They are bystanders to these adult decisions and they should always come first. With that said I know the decisions are difficult to make. May you be blessed with wisdom, courage and honor when making your choices.”

  • SECURITY: Security remained high in many people’s thoughts and respondents supported reasonable measures toward security improvements. Questions regarding fed/state funding. A number of people stated they didn’t want Region 15 to have a “knee jerk” reaction to the recent tragedy in Newtown.
  • ARTS/SPORTS: Another strong message was respondents’ support for the arts (art, music) and extracurricular/athletic activities in order to build a well-rounded student and to keep children busy. Respondents were split about Pay to Participate: some wanted an increase in sports fees, some wanted arts to have no fees, some were ok with the status quo.
  • TECHNOLOGY: There was much support for technology improvements, but a variety of details such as reinstatement of elementary school technology teachers, support or lack of support for technology at high school level, and fundraising ideas for technology rather than in the school budget.
  • PERCENT INCREASE: While there were some respondents who felt that the budget should remain at a 0% increase (or a decrease over last year), most respondents supported an increase in the budget since it was flat for two years.
  • SALARY: Teacher Contract Negotiations were mentioned often, as they were recently in the news. While people felt that teacher positions should not be cut, respondents were concerned about how negotiations take place and the results (salary increases) of the most recent negotiations. Comments about holding negotiations in public, making contracts public on website, pay for results, elimination of tenure. Respondents did not want classroom teachers cut, but mentioned how the number of administrators, including dept chairs, should be reduced.
  • CLASS SIZE: Most respondents supported smaller class sizes, particularly at the elementary level. People felt that although they support AP courses and music, low enrolled classes should be eliminated or operated through distance/online learning.
  • OTHER: Insufficient parking, Building maintenance/HVAC, MS Health/Substance Abuse Classes, Bus Route review.

Survey Question #15 & 16: Demographics

81% of respondents are parents/guardians/grandparents of Region 15 students. Almost 9% are staff members and a few respondents are college/high school students. Those parents were mostly parents of elementary school aged children (70%).

Tom Oakes February 20, 2013 at 12:04 PM
Why didn't I see this survey? I would never have elected to pay for increased security. It's a complete waste of money that won't save lives or improve health and serves only to increase the level of fear in schools by introducing guns where there were none.
Thomas Gaipa February 20, 2013 at 01:39 PM
I would like to see published the "write in comments" from the survey.
ahhhnonymous February 20, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Thankfully, people with common sense made sure that anti-American disarmament enthusiasts such as yourself were kept in the dark. If your reasoning for not supporting this is the fear of spawning fear, you've managed to be completely hypocritical. Let's disarm police, too, since your solid logic has come to light. The only part of your bizarre commentary that I agree with is that guns will not improve health. Correct. Guns will also not fix cars, get us to Mars, spread peanut butter on Wonder bread or plow 30" of snow. I wonder what you think Region 15 is going to do… just buy a pile of guns and put them at the front of the driveway? Take a look at what the people of Newtown voted for… pretty sure we're talking about resource officers. Maybe one of them carries a pistol. Let's not get all alarmist about the gun control nonsense.
Thad Burr February 20, 2013 at 02:17 PM
The demographics section says it all; 90% of the respondents were parents or staff of Region 15 schools, yet the actual demographics of the eligible voters in the town of Southbury, for example, are approximately 60% with no children in Region 15 schools, and 40% with children in school. How then can this survey be construed as anything but "monkey business" . . .??
Tom Oakes February 20, 2013 at 02:28 PM
I'm talking about armed guards in elementary and middle schools. I don't want them, nor do I need them. I don't want my children growing up with guns in their schools because creates a danger that does not now exist. My commentary was given with all due respect to other perspectives. Your description of my personal opinion as bizzare and anti-American adds nothing to the dialog. In fact, it undermines your position by demonstrating an inability to engage in an forthright and respectful discussion.
Suzy S February 20, 2013 at 02:28 PM
It was on Patch and in Voices.
ahhhnonymous February 20, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Tom - we're not going to agree. I get that, if you have an opportunity to have a vote, you wish your opinion could have been heard. You want to control the environment your kids live in. I get it. I'm not here to get into a discussion about your children, in particular. However, I'm wondering what your vision of an armed resource officer would be? My vision is more in line with a trained professional who carries a concealed weapon. I'm just not sure how that concept translates to children growing up with guns in their schools.
ahhhnonymous February 20, 2013 at 02:58 PM
While I verbally duke it out with Tom, above, I agree - this survey was not exactly big public news. That said, it's just an opinion poll. Let them add the $700,000 to the budget line items and see if the budget passes, right?
ahhhnonymous February 20, 2013 at 03:06 PM
Also - to say it is a complete waste of money to pay for increased security because it won't save lives is just complete conjecture, when there are absolutely instances where it has saved lives.
ahhhnonymous February 20, 2013 at 03:26 PM
Lastly, the fact that you object to my description of your commentary is your problem, not mine. You can dismiss my comments - that's your choice. If you're interested in understanding a little more behind my words - I'm disgusted by the self-righteousness of the anti-gun movement. Using the horrific events of 12/14 to spawn a national campaign to get rid of guns is a complete sham. We have a social problem, not a semi-automatic rifle problem; and I'm going to stand firm on what I say about it. I get your concerns about wanting to raise your kids the way YOU want to raise them. In my opinion, your concerns are being used by powerful people in government to forward an agenda that concerns a drastic shift from a citizenry that had guns from the very beginning, to a new so-called "modern" view where the government controls everything and will take care of you and your children. What I'm suggesting is looking at something much bigger than Southbury or even Connecticut, that once there is a shift to disarm the citizens of a country, it then makes it very convenient for the absolute worst people in government to make decisions that follow the course of world history where you become ruled, obedient and helpless to the wishes and whims of the extremely wealthy and powerful. If you're not in the least bit suspicious of what's going on in Washington, I'd have to call you terribly naive.
Gary Diamond February 20, 2013 at 06:22 PM
Will that area money also be used to protect the school buses while there on the road, I know it may not have happened in our state, but it has happened only a few weeks in Newton, Ala.
L February 20, 2013 at 07:12 PM
Today's Voices has an article about the budget increase. I, myself, have four children in Region 15 schools and agree that school safety should be a number one priority with regards to a new budget. But that should mean that we have to cut some other line items and do things like increase classroom sizes. We cannot afford to increase the budget to include safety issues and not decrease something else in the process. The schools do NOT need more more for technology-ask the PTO's to raise money for that. And the middle schools do NOT need both a music class and band/orchestra/chorus--Pick one. They also don't need a foreign language starting in sixth grade--instead start in 8th grade. The town simply cannot afford and should not have to afford the cost for both school safety and these other continued programs--you have to cut somewhere. You shouldn't simply increase the cost of parking at the HS and playing sports--that's not fair to everyone and hinders those families who will not be able to afford the increased cost. Hello-childhood obesity! Fair is fair and what Region 15 has proposed is far from fair!
Julie Labrie February 20, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Survey what survey? This is the first I heard of any survey, convenient after the fact. I think anything that involves our taxes increasing should be mailed out to homeowners to review.
Thad Burr February 20, 2013 at 07:35 PM
The BOE and Region 15 staff do not really want survey inputs from everyone, just those who support the Education Empire. They do not want facts, just positive PR in order to railroad their latest budget proposals through for the "sake of the kids". We have lost nearly 800 students in the Region, but does anyone talk of taking that $8Million and, God forbid, actually reducing the budget??
SbyMom February 21, 2013 at 01:07 AM
I an not pro or anti guns. I have been struggling to answer a questions though, and I ask this... Someone, please tell me what an unarmed guard would do if God Forbid a gunman broke into our schools? Try to physically hold them back, call 911, isn't that exactly what the brave, dedicated teachers tried to do in Sandy Hook?? It cost them their lives and the lives of twenty beautiful, innocent, children. Top priority is to protect our children as parents, a community, and a nation. Sticking your head in the sand, standing on a political soap box, is not going to do it. Many schools have resource officers. They do not promote fear in children. Many children find comfort having them there and establish a re pore with them. Historically resource officers have been placed in schools to aid in deterring drugs, fighting, etc. Now these officers will have a much greater meaning. To possibly save our children's lives.
Tom Oakes March 04, 2013 at 03:51 PM
"the fact that you object to my description of your commentary is your problem, not mine" That's an odd thing to say. Don't you take personal responsibility for your comments? I suppose that's one 'advantage' anonymous comments, there's no need to take responsibility for them. The suggestion that your use of ad hominem is my problem is misguided. There are repurcussions to venting ones anger and resentment that run deeper than the fact that they undermine the argument one is making. In the long run the injured party is not the resented one, but the one that is so insecure in his convictions that he needs to use intimidation in order to 'win' his argument.

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