Sunday, December 21, 2014

Survey: School safety a top concern

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 5/15/2013

When it comes to the safety of their children, Ottawa school district patrons sent a clear message: Nothing is more important.

A 2013 community survey, conducted by Olathe-based ETC Institute, indicated school safety was the No. 1 concern for Ottawa school district patrons.

When it comes to the safety of their children, Ottawa school district patrons sent a clear message: Nothing is more important.

A 2013 community survey, conducted by Olathe-based ETC Institute, indicated school safety was the No. 1 concern for Ottawa school district patrons.

When asked to rank their top three among a list of 11 district priorities, 48 percent of respondents said improving school safety should be at the top of the list.

“I think school safety is paramount in all of our minds,” Susan Ward, Ottawa school board president, said.

Elaine Tatham, president of ETC Institute, discussed the survey results with Ward and other school board members at their Monday-night meeting.

Representatives of 627 households responded to the 35-question survey, topping ETC Institute’s goal of reaching 600 households, according to the survey’s executive summary. The summary indicated 1,636 persons lived in those 627 households, and 28 percent of those households had at least one child enrolled in Ottawa schools.

Tatham told the board she thought the results were a good representation of the school district.

“What the survey also showed us is that people who had a child in school or a child under the age of 18 are more supportive of things that require spending money,” Tatham said, such as new construction, renovations and additions.

Toward that end, converting the former Eisenhower Elementary School back into an education center was second on the list of patrons’ top priorities at 34 percent. The former Eisenhower school building, 1404 S. Ash St., Ottawa, closed in May 2011 and was renovated to serve as the school district’s central office.

“I was a little surprised at that,” Ward said of an Eisenhower conversion ranking second on district patrons’ priority lists. “But I know it’s close to residential areas, and that’s some of its appeal.”

Thirty percent of respondents said renovating and adding on to Ottawa High School, 1120 S. Ash St., Ottawa, should be the top priority, followed closely by a proposal to add classroom space at Garfield Elementary School, 1213 S. College St., Ottawa, which garnered 29 percent of the vote.

The other seven items — ranging from building a new high school to ditching modular classrooms — ranked considerably lower on patrons’ to-do lists.

Identifying trends

Tatham also conducted community surveys on behalf of the school district in 2004 and 2007. She indicated the 2013 and 2007 surveys produced similar results.

When asked how important is it to respondents for the Ottawa school district to replace older facilities with newer facilities that are easier and less costly to maintain, plus provide students with today’s technology and programs in a safe environment, 64 percent of responds said it was “important or very important,” Tatham said.

“In all three surveys [2004, 2007 and 2013], people saw it as an important topic,” Tatham said. “That interest has been sustained for nine years, and I think that’s rather impressive.”

Dennis George, school board member, said maintaining equity among the school district’s three elementary schools is of paramount importance to the board.

“We are still striving for a goal to maintain equity among the three elementary schools — that’s very important to us,” George said. “Obviously, making sure our schools provide a safe and secure learning environment is very important, so it was not a surprise that school safety was No. 1 on the list.”

Bond issues

As for floating a bond issue to pay for new school construction or renovation, Tatham’s survey indicated patrons’ support ranged from solid to zilch. The level of support was dictated by how the funds were to be used, Tatham said.

For example, when patrons were asked if they would support building a new elementary space at another location if Eugene Field Elementary School, 720 Tremont Ave., Ottawa, were used as the central office, 48 percent said they would not support that idea, while 33 percent showed support and 19 percent were not sure, according to the survey.

“That’s not a lot of support,” Tatham said.

But when asked how supportive they would be in a bond issue election for new school construction, 55 percent said they would support it, while 43 percent were not supportive and 2 percent didn’t commit either way, the survey showed.

“That shows a little possibility here, but not much,” Tatham said.

When respondents were asked if they would support a bond issue of up to $5 million to improve security at all schools and build additional classrooms at Garfield Elementary, 68 percent said they would support that bond issue, while 29 percent indicated they would not support it and 3 percent didn’t respond, according to the survey.

“That’s almost a 2-to-1 ratio, which indicates people might support a small bond issue if the district is able to communicate to people why it is important,” Tatham said.

Ward said having the numbers from the three surveys would help the school board plan for the future.

“We’ll have to analyze the data and see how we can incorporate that into our planning,” Ward said. “Having the results from the previous surveys helps us establish trends. [The survey] will act as a springboard to help move us forward.”

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