The Ladysmith School Board voted 6-0, Wednesday, to hire a consulting firm to conduct a public opinion survey of two referendums being planned for next spring’s election.
School Perceptions, of Slinger, is an independent research firm that specializes in conducting web-based surveys for public and private schools, educational service agencies, communities and other state-level organizations. It has conducted more than 700 community survey projects, helping school districts navigate the strategic planning and referendum processes. It will be paid $8,800 for Ladysmith School District surveys, not including printing and postage. This breaks down to strategy development, survey design, survey administration and results reporting.
Sites visits, if needed, will be charged at $900 per visit plus expenses.
The surveys are being planned for this fall as the school board prepares for two referendum questions to appear on the April 2022 ballots. One question will ask voter permission to improve facilities. A second question will ask voter permission to exceed revenue limits for operational expenses.
At the May 19 meeting, board members expressed concerns ranging from holding facility tours to making sure the public is fully informed about what they are being asked to approve in both referendum questions.
School board member Colleen Peters backs the site visit tours, saying the public can’t provide informed survey responses without first seeing the facilities.
“It would make sense for the community to see the sites before the survey,” Peters said. “It is likely many residents haven’t been in the schools ever or at least for a very, very long time.”
She also supports taking additional measures to help those with reading difficulties understand the issues.
“We want to make sure everyone is vested in this decision,” Peters said.
School District Administrator Laura Stunkel called the survey “a critical piece to invest in ahead of the referendum questions.
“This is the only way we have a chance of passing a referendum, if we truly listen to them,” Stunkel said.
School board member Chrysa Ostenso called the expenditure a large sum of money. She also said one leaflet might not be read.
It was noted the public will be asked two separate referendum questions.
“It is both,” Stunkel said. “We have to educate on both as well.”
The board directed Stunkel to contact the firm about printing and postage costs and if there are additional issues to address in the survey after facilities and operational expenses.
In other matters, the board:
— Voted 5-1 with one abstention to approve contract renewals for certified staff for the 2021-22 Academic Year.
— Voted 5-1 with one abstention to approve extra-curricular contracts for the 2021-22 Academic Year.
— Voted 6-0 to approve the Summer School staffing and courses. It was noted the summer school enrollment this year will be more than 250 students or more than double last summer during the coronavirus pandemic.
— Voted 6-0 to approve a summer technical assistant support staff position for 25 hours per week for 8 weeks.
— Voted 6-0 to spend $2,335 with Barefoot Painters of Ladysmith to make improvements to the outdoor classroom building on the Cross County Ski Trail near Ladysmith Middle & High School. The facility improvements include cleaning, staining and “chinking” the logs. The structure “needs attention,” according to Stunkel. the work will be funded through the district’s Community Service Fund.
— Voted 5-1 with one abstention to approve handbook changes, mostly language updates involving compensation, leaves, sickness, paid time off, emergencies and vacations. It addresses compensation increase for staff not enrolling in the district’s Health Savings Account from $1,200 to $1,800. It also includes a schedule of professional staff compensation guidelines for those with bachelors and masters degrees outlining “hopeful expectations” these employees might expect to earn. The top pay amounts were $53,856 with a bachelors degree and $61,443 for a masters degree. It was noted no staff currently fit into these “hopeful expectations” and it is mainly for prospective new hires.
— Voted 6-0 to approve a policy change, adjusting the purchasing ceiling from $5,000 to $15,000 for a single item. Stunkel told the board the lower level is limiting as it is difficult to find more than one bid in some cases. Board member Mike Russell said it can be a hassle to chase down additional quotes instead of getting the work done. Board member Chrysa Ostenso called the increase a large jump that triples the prior limit.
— Voted 6-0 to approve a revised Blended Learning Assisting Students Together policy. BLAST had been a way to meet the needs of home-schooled students. About four students will remain grandfathered, allowing them to graduate under the prior policy. Moving forward, the school district will purchase a virtual program offering greater control and monitoring. A vendor is not yet chosen. There is currently no BLAST teacher as the program is overseen by a school counselor.
— Voted 6-0 to approve the district’s WIAA membership for the 2021-22 school year at no cost. As a private, voluntary organization, the WIAA receives no state or federal funding. Its viability to provide service to members is reliant on tournament gate receipts, which typically accounts for 87 percent of revenue to fund operations. Over the past five years, the WIAA has returned nearly $13.1 million to members with its shared revenue formula. In addition, members have saved approximately $2.54 million since the elimination of dues and fees in 2015.
— Voted 6-0 to approve a student’s request for early graduation.
— Voted 6-0 to approve the graduation date for the 2021-22 school year of 2 p.m., Saturday, May 28.