Montevideo School Board hears results of referendum survey

Danae Milbrandt

The Montevideo School Board heard the results of a referendum survey at it’s regularly scheduled board meeting on Monday evening. The meeting was held via ZOOM, and Todd Rapp, of Rapp Strategies, Inc. joined in to present the results of the survey. The purpose of the public survey was to gather input in order to ascertain the next steps in addressing the district’s facility needs.

In the Montevideo School District’s most recent bond referendum that took place in April, the majority of votes received had voted “no” on whether the district should build a new elementary school, along with new performing arts building.

Since the referendum failed, the district sent out surveys to residents in the community asking a number of questions to find out why it failed, and what could be done in the future to update its current facilities.

There were 657 individuals who participated in the survey. In the previous mail survey that took place in the summer of 2019, 758 residents had responded.

Stated in the survey results, overall 67 percent of participants had voted in the April referendum. The majority of those who didn’t participate stated it was due to COVID-19 concerns, followed by forgetting about it, on leave for business, or just not interested.

When asked if the district did a good job providing information, 60 percent of participants stated yes.

When asked if they voted, whether they supported or opposed the referendum, 71 percent of survey participants voted in support, versus 29 percent stating they opposed the referendum. Of the supporters, 98 percent said they would support another referendum. Those who opposed stated they did so because they wanted a more affordable plan, they wanted their questions answered, or they worried about the COVID-19 pandemic or economic issues.

The survey then asked if the district needed a plan to improve the aging elementary schools, to which 87 percent of participants agreed. They were then asked if grade configuration would be good for the students, which had 88 percent of participants vote in agreement.

Participants were also asked if the district should invest in better security and safety measures on campus for their students and staff, with 83 percent of surveyors in agreement.

They were then asked what to do about the Fine Arts Center. Overall, 58 percent voted to replace it entirely, 28 percent voted to renovate, and 14 percent of participants voted to leave it alone.

In regards to a future referendum, participants were asked what the most important ways to receive information would be. The majority said that mail would be best at 70 percent, followed by 49 percent stating that email would be be best, 41 percent stating that newspaper and radio would be preferrable, and social media was also stated as viable.

The survey asked when the district should hold another referendum, to which 29 percent replied with November of 2020, 23 percent said November of 2021, 14 percent said February of 2021, 14 percent said April of 2021, and 10 percent said not at all. The results showed staff and parents leaning toward earlier, while other residents leaned toward next November, or not at all.

According to Dr. Heller, Superintendent of Montevideo Schools, having just seen the survey results, the school board has not yet developed a position toward the next step.

“It is obvious that we still have needs, and the survey results show that we need a plan to address the facility needs in general and, more specifically, the elementary facilities,” said Heller.

According to Heller, the school board will further review the survey results and discuss the next steps.

“That will include looking at whether or not to formulate a new plan, what should be included in the plan and when should we consider taking another proposal to the voters,” Heller said.

Heller stated that it is possible that consideration would be given to not including a new performing arts center in future plans, however, if that is done, then a decision would have to be made as to how to make the current facility usable, and how to address the needs of the programs that the Fine Ars Center serves.

“The Fine Arts Center is about 80 years old,” said Heller, “and there are structural issues with the facility. We may look at another cost analysis for renovation of the facility. The future of the Fine Arts Center will be a discussion topic for the board as we move forward.”

A new elementary school is the district’s primary facility need at this point in time. According to Heller, the board will be looking at the current proposal, and will make some determinations about what changes will be made to the proposal if need be.

“Also, it will be necessary to make some decisions about how to best inform our public about our needs and how to garner community support for whatever solution is brought forward,” he added.

It is still too early for the board to develop a timeline for bringing another bond referendum proposal before the community, but they will be discussing that and developing a communications plan in coming meetings as they move forward.