March 12, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
A community-wide survey conducted in December graded Lake Orion Schools in terms of overall customer satisfaction.
Even though 79 percent of parents, non-parents and seniors surveyed gave LOCS an "A&B" grade, the district survey revealed key areas where the administration needs more focus.
LOCS hired EPIC-MRA for $20,000. Surveyers randomly selected 400 local residents for live telephone interviews from December 3, 2013 to December 7, 2013 focusing on community satisfaction of the district, views on a possible building and site sinking fund, and related education issues.
EPIC-MRA is a Lansing based survey research firm specializing in public opinion surveys, focus group research, community-media relations, political campaigns, bond proposals/millage campaigns and database development.
EPIC-MRA has worked with more than 100 school districts.
Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said the purpose of the survey was to provide administration information to make future decisions.
"It's almost contradictory, but it's interesting. One of the biggest things that came out of this is we do a really good job communicating. But I don't think we are communicating the right things," Ginopolis said.
Eighty-seven percent of people surveyed offered a positive rating on the conditions of the schools, facilities and other buildings, property and grounds of LOCS.
Ginopolis said this is where the communication disconnect is.
"Thinking back to when we were working on the August 2013 bond, we weren't evidently communicating how poor the school conditions are," she said. "Driving past them, and even when you're inside they don't look bad. But when you have older schools there are issues."
The study also confirmed the community is very concerned about financial issues.
Thirty-five percent said the biggest problem facing LO schools is "lack of funding," where six percent elected "wasteful spending."
Fifty percent gave LOCS a "positive rating" for managing school finances with 39 percent offering a negative rating.
Bernie Porn, President of EPIC-MRA, said the district needs to "get a little more meat on the bones" in terms of explaining financial issues.
"We didn't ask a question in terms of what people felt by wasteful spending. So that's probably an area they ought to look into and see what they could improve," Porn said.
Of those surveyed, 32 percent said school taxes are "too high," 56 percent said they are "about right," and 12 percent said "too low" or were "unsure."
"When you get into the 30 percentile range it could be more challenging in terms of asking for a ballot proposal," he said. "Your pool of persuadable voters is much lower."
If the amount of people who say taxes are too high is above 40 percent, like in Troy Porn said, "you have a group of people voting 'no' on a proposal because of taxes, and that's their only reason," he said.
Although LO's unhappy taxpayers are above the ideal 15-20 percent of people surveyed, Porn said proper education and motivation to get to the polls could still yield positive ballot results for LOCS.
For any upcoming ballot proposals, Porn recommended holding a special/school election as opposed to a general election because voters' focus can be specifically on the proposed ballot.
Ginopolis said it was clear LOCS voters "are not crazy about August elections especially if it increases debt or taxes on them."
"It would not be my recommendation to go for a bond right away," she said.
A 51 percent narrow majority would vote "yes" for a one mill building and site fund, with 42 percent voting no.
Ginopolis said that was the crux of the whole survey.
"A narrow majority said they would vote yes. But that percentage of voters includes voters who were undecided at first," she said. "It all goes back to if you explain to me what this is for, and you make your case, then I'm willing to support you. But don't just ask me for money," she said.
The board does need to consider, however, which upcoming election (August or November) to propose the renewal of the Non-Homestead act to continue the state-mandated 18-mill tax posed on non-homestead property including industrial/commercial properties and second homes.
The 18-mil non-homestead tax must be levied in order to obtain the full amount of State Foundation Grant Funding, a school's foundation allowance.
Schools of Choice was another hot topic in the survey. Porn recommended telling the financial success stories of using the Schools of Choice program so community members understood the reasoning behind it, which Ginopolis concurred.
"Our role is to make sure the community knows what the purpose is and what we anticipate the impact to be, those are the things we are not communicating very well, and we have to make sure that we let people know," Ginopolis said.