A phone survey of residents in June shows some changes in the public's perceptions of the district's image and its financial outlook since the last survey in October.
"The data indicates there is a growing awareness of the district's financial challenges among Rockwood patrons," said Rod Wright, president of survey company UNICOM-ARC, at Thursday's meeting of the Rockwood board of education. "They value quality, but don't appear to be connecting the dots yet between the costs of that value."
School board directors commissioned the survey by the St. Louis-based market research company, which has worked with Rockwood for nearly 20 years. Rockwood communications coordinator Cathy Orta said the survey cost $19,750, contrary to a report by a major media source.
UNICOM director of research Sharon Gotter presented findings to the school board and about 50 attendees reflecting the following areas:
- Perceptions of the district
- Perceptions of public issues
- Potential referendum
- Comparison to neighboring districts
- Awareness of district conditions
- District priorities
- Statements about a tax increase referendum
The results were based on 500 phone interviews, with a 4 percent margin of error. Gotter said 710 web-based surveys had been completed this month, but could not be counted as scientifically valid because the results are from people who chose to respond and may not be demographically diversified, rather than a random sample of the school district's population. The cost of the survey included questionnaire development, telephone interviews, analysis and the web-based survey.
- While 51 percent of this year's respondents said the quality of the district has stayed the same in the last five years, a year ago 46 percent said it had stayed the same. Last month, a total of 9.6 percent indicated the quality had gotten worse, compared to 6.4 percent indicating it was worse in the 2010 survey.
- Gotter said respondents' year-to-year impressions of public issues, such as the district's effect on property values, had not changed drastically.
- Regarding a potential tax increase referendum, a total of 42.9 percent favored it; 51.5 percent did not.
- While Rockwood's school board directors have not determined an amount of a proposed tax increase to place on a November ballot, a hypothetical 65-cent increase was used in the survey. Gotter said in her experience, the tax increase number used in surveys does not significantly affect survey responses.
- This year's respondents indicated the condition of Rockwood's buildings and facilities, as well as students' academic performance and quality of teaching staff, were higher (better) than neighboring districts. But a significant percentage of respondents did not know how to compare its per-pupil expenditure and quality of financial management.
- The percentage of respondents who said Rockwood needs more money to maintain its staffing and curriculum jumped from 15 percent a year ago to 24 percent now, Gotter said.
- "Respondents clearly see that Rockwood has made recent cuts to try to balance the budget," she said, citing a jump of 10 percentage points in awareness on that particular question, from 7 percent a year ago to 17 percent last month.
- She said providing updated technology has become a top priority among Rockwood respondents for the first time in recent years of surveys.
- Two other priorities also showed a significant increase: continuing classes with lower enrollments (12 percentage points increase from 51 percent of respondents to 63 percent of respondents) and continuing to provide transportation for students within 3.5 miles of their school (8 percentage points increase from 50 percent of respondents to 58 percent of respondents).
One statement on the survey showed a substantial drop: "Rockwood School District has always prided itself on being a world-class school district. We need to do whatever it takes to maintain this high standard for our school district." Gotter said 81 percent of survey participants agreed with that statement a year ago. In June, that dropped to 70 percent.
For complete survey results, see the district's website.