School board gets first look at survey results

ThisWeek – April 13, 2011

Nearly half of the residents surveyed by a local public-opinion research firm think the New Albany-Plain Local School District is excellent, board members learned at an April 11 workshop.

Marty Saperstein, president of Columbus-based Saperstein Associates, explained the phone-survey results and talked about what he called “the voice” of residents that could provide the board with objective data for future planning.

One aspect of the survey that seemed confusing to some board members related to the residents’ expectations of and perceptions of the district’s performance.

Saperstein said two out of three residents considered the district’s aspirations to become one of the nation’s top-performing districts to be important. But the survey also indicated that one out of two residents felt the district already is one of the top-performing districts in the nation.

Board vice president Laura Kohler called the result a “paradox” and asked for clarification. Saperstein said the district’s current level may not meet the standards people want. While they recognize the district’s achievements, they may have higher expectations for a “top-performing” district, he said.

That doesn’t mean residents are inclined to vote for a levy to improve the district’s performance. Saperstein said only one of six residents surveyed was likely to vote in favor of a tax increase to become a top-performing district. They were, however, more likely to support a tax increase to address the district’s overcrowding.

Superintendent April Domine said the district currently is 500 students above capacity and officials expect 1,000 more students to be enrolled in the next 10 years. Even though that was not mentioned in the survey, Saperstein said, four out of 10 people surveyed said overcrowding was the biggest concern for the district and seven out of 10 said they were likely to support a bond issue to address overcrowding.

Saperstein said on further inspection of the reasons given in support of a bond issue, the number of residents likely to support a bond issue dropped to one third of those surveyed. Board member Cheri Lehmann said the numbers could dwindle even more if an actual dollar amount were associated with the bond issue.

Saperstein agreed, saying it wouldn’t be a 1-, 2- or 3-mill issue, so some people would not support it. He said parents expecting to enroll their children in the district in the future seemed more supportive of a facilities bond issue, while retirees and residents of Plain Township seemed less supportive.

Out of the 19 areas to be rated with grades from A to F, the district got the best marks on the survey for maintaining its facilities, preparing students for college and having high-quality athletics programs, Saperstein said.

Saperstein said 60 percent of the people surveyed thought New Albany must improve academically. They said they wanted highly effective teachers in every classroom, more instructional opportunities for gifted and struggling students and more challenging courses for all students.

The respondents also wanted better communications. As an example, Saperstein said, residents were asked three questions about the district and only two people answered all three correctly. Residents were asked if Columbus residents pay more or less in tax millage than New Albany residents, the number of students enrolled in the district and the district’s rating on the 2010 state report card.

Saperstein said the lack of knowledge on those topics means the district needs to spend more time getting its message out to residents. He said even if district officials told people the same thing 50 times, it might not be enough.

Lehmann agreed, saying the district needs to “campaign without campaigning” by trying to get the word out on issues year-round, not only when there is a campaign to raise money.

Saperstein said 300 people took the telephone survey. Participants were chosen randomly from registered voters living in the boundaries of the school district. Those surveyed mirrored the area’s population, which has more women than men. Residents with and without children were polled between Feb. 17 and Feb. 22 and the survey took an average of 17 minutes.

Survey results should be posted on the district’s website at

Saperstein Associates was paid $15,000 for the project, which included pre-testing and survey development, completing the survey, analyzing the data received and putting the data into a final report, according to information from the district.