Thu04242014

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LASD moves forward with bond measure

After positive survey feedback, Los Altos School District officials plan to identify stakeholders and drum up support for a possible November bond measure.

The district board of trustees reviewed results of the survey of 500 likely voters conducted last month. Professional interviewers with EMC Research conducted the phone survey, which has a margin of error of 4.38 percent.

Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research presented findings at the district’s Feb. 10 board meeting, noting that support for the bond measure is near the 55 percent threshold required for passage. She said awareness of the school district in the media is high, and support for the bond measure did not fluctuate dramatically as interviewers provided additional information.

Threshold of support

The survey asked an open-ended question about reasons the potential voter would support or reject the bond measure. The top response included maintaining quality schools and quality education, with addressing crowding the secondary reason.

The initial responses revealed that 54 percent of those surveyed would approve a bond and an additional 7 percent lean yes, which is what Bernstein referred to as a “soft yes.”

The top reasons to vote no included objections to higher taxes, the district’s need for better management and not seeing the necessity for a bond. Only 10 percent of those who said they wouldn’t vote for the bond mentioned not supporting Bullis Charter School as a reason.

“We do have a small percentage concerned about the issue with the charter school,” Bernstein said. “But it is not the overwhelming issue to vote against this.”

After learning the cost of the bond – $30 per $100,000 of assessed home value, resulting in $150 million for the district – support remained stable. Of those queried, 57 percent said they would vote yes and 3 percent said they leaned toward yes.

“Your community is one of the only communities I’ve ever seen where support does not go down when you reveal the cost of the measure,” Bernstein said.

After explaining that the district’s Enrollment Task Force research resulted in a recommendation to seek additional school space, support dipped slightly. Fifty-five percent of likely voters would say yes and 3 percent leaned yes.

Responses after suggesting some potential projects showed that key projects were important to voters, but with low intensity. Projects that didn’t apply directly to improvements in educational quality proved less enticing to potential voters.

Bernstein said reasons to oppose the bond were compelling to many of those surveyed, including providing new facilities for Bullis Charter School, not revealing exactly how the bond money would be spent and threats of overcrowding at local schools being overblown.

“What we see is that there is a threshold of support for approval, but it’s going to take some work,” she said. “Even though we don’t see a lot of movement (in support or opposition), we do see a lot of soft support.”

Seeking greater input

District parent Noah Mesel, the only public commenter on the bond presentation, said the district needs to be more forthcoming with how it plans to spend bond funds.

“One thing I’m interested in is how much of the $150 million will be spent on new schools,” Mesel said. “Will a new school be built for the charter school? Where are the sites going to be? These are questions that will not go away. I think that the fundamental issue is getting accurate information and detail to the voters and not to try and sweep any information under the carpet.”

Sarah Stern-Benoit of TBWB Strategies, a firm that helps package and pass bond measures, was also on hand to provide advice to the district on how they should proceed.

Stern-Benoit said that moving forward, it is important for the district to engage with the broader community and seek input regarding what residents would like to see in terms of specifics for the bond measure.

“We can’t say you would be successful – you have to do the other pieces of the work,” she said. “You have to make sure the voters are informed. What this survey shows is that you have a real chance at success, but the district has a lot of work to do in terms of getting community feedback and input about why this is needed.”

Stern-Benoit suggested that after more communication with likely voters and engaging community stakeholders, it would be appropriate to poll the community again before the final decision.

The deadline for the November ballot is Aug. 8. The district has scheduled a board meeting Aug. 4, specifically to determine the final bond decision.

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