Morris Leatherman survey results spark conversations about district changes

Young+students+flood+out+of+Brookview+Elementary+at+the+end+of+a+busy+school+day.+Brookview+is+one+of+the+newest+elementary+schools%2C+which+was+a+result+of+the+new+and+incoming+students+coming+from+the+southern+areas+of+the+district.+This+K-5+school+was+opened+as+a+result+of+the+B.O.L.D.+plan+that+was+put+into+place+after+the+district+shut+down+Withrow+and+Marine+Elementary.
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Morris Leatherman survey results spark conversations about district changes

Young students flood out of Brookview Elementary at the end of a busy school day. Brookview is one of the newest elementary schools, which was a result of the new and incoming students coming from the southern areas of the district. This K-5 school was opened as a result of the B.O.L.D. plan that was put into place after the district shut down Withrow and Marine Elementary.

Young students flood out of Brookview Elementary at the end of a busy school day. Brookview is one of the newest elementary schools, which was a result of the new and incoming students coming from the southern areas of the district. This K-5 school was opened as a result of the B.O.L.D. plan that was put into place after the district shut down Withrow and Marine Elementary.

Photo by Rachel Duerr

Young students flood out of Brookview Elementary at the end of a busy school day. Brookview is one of the newest elementary schools, which was a result of the new and incoming students coming from the southern areas of the district. This K-5 school was opened as a result of the B.O.L.D. plan that was put into place after the district shut down Withrow and Marine Elementary.

Photo by Rachel Duerr

Photo by Rachel Duerr

Young students flood out of Brookview Elementary at the end of a busy school day. Brookview is one of the newest elementary schools, which was a result of the new and incoming students coming from the southern areas of the district. This K-5 school was opened as a result of the B.O.L.D. plan that was put into place after the district shut down Withrow and Marine Elementary.

Rachel Duerr, Online Editor

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In August 2019, a public research team called The Morris Leatherman Group conducted a phone survey with 570 randomly selected residents of the community to assess the attitudes and obtain opinions of the residents and parents in the district with all of the changes made in recent years. The Morris Leatherman Group presented results from the recent Community Survey at a school board meeting Sept. 19. The survey touched on a wide variety of areas, including the perception of education quality and offerings, district referendum atmospherics and future facility needs. 

Results of the survey showed positive thoughts and opinions coming from most of the respondents, overall strong support for what has and is continuing to happen in or community as a whole. There was concern about some of the changes have been made some of those being school closings, students’ needs and essentials not being listened to, teachers under too much stress and possible tax increase. Surveys are a great way for the school board and administration to comprehend how the parents and community is feeling. 

“When our community takes the time to answer important questions affecting our children, and we don’t follow up in some manner, then we lose engagement, and we lose trust. I’d love to see us do a similar survey on a somewhat regular basis so we can gauge which concerns remain important, and which concerns have been satisfied,” School Board member Jennifer Pelletier said.

Surveys capture opinions and make discussion in an organized manner, but there are still many parents didn’t get their voices or thoughts heard. Many members of the district are still frustrated by the closing of Oak Park, Withrow and Marine Elementary in 2017.

“It’s just sad what happened to our communities when it could have been done in a better way. The process was flawed. Watching the last school board meeting last Thursday I learned that more boundary changes are inevitable. So, more change is on the way,” parent and former teacher at Marine Elementary Christine Dettmann stated.

It’s just sad what happened to our communities when it could have been done in a better way. The process was flawed. Watching the last school board meeting last Thursday I learned that more boundary changes are inevitable. So, more change is on the way.”

— Christine Dettman

In past surveys, the community gave high ratings to the quality of education in the district, and strongly endorsed its teachers, curriculum, programming and classroom education. There was also concern about the district’s budget challenges, which have caused quite a controversy with the schools closing in years’ past.

Pelletier spoke on the budget challenges and struggles with changes in the district, “We have to continue to request feedback from those who are implementing any changes we make, and we need to ask if these changes are benefiting the recipients. It is one thing to implement a change, but we also need to make sure the change is actually benefiting our students.”

77 percent of the respondents stated they would be willing to support a property tax increase for both operating dollars as part of a levy request and for building projects as part of a bond request. This is crucial because the current voter-approved operating levy set to expire in 2021 then putting the district at risk of losing $12 million in annual operating funds.

School board member Jennifer Pelletier talked about the results of the survey and the idea of a possible tax increase, “People seem to overwhelmingly support moving forward and addressing current and future needs that affect the growth of our children… based on the survey, while taxpayers seem to feel that their property taxes are too high, they seem a little more willing to support taxes that positively affect things like career pathways, tech and curriculum improvements, and social-emotional supports. All of those things seem to be important to our community.”

There was some concern and negative outlooks on the construction of a new building in an area experiencing growth as well as the lack of funding, high taxes and large class sizes. Changes to these areas have yet to be made by the school board, but will be discussed in future school board meetings. Some parents had different opinions on the topic of class sizes and information on the district buildings.

“[Class sizes was] one of the misunderstandings throughout the district. I’ve never understood why so many people spread rumors about the small class sizes and yet had never stepped into the building,” Christine Dettmann said.

Many respondents of the survey refused to answer questions regarding district leadership. The school board’s job performance ratings for the school board slightly lowered compared to year’s past, while the ratings for administration rose slightly. Parents have stated concern with emotional issues the schools closing had put on in the community.

“There has been little effort to acknowledge hurt or repair relationships and unite the community. I hope that Lake Elmo Elementary gets all that it needs to be successful. That teacher can be proud of working for Stillwater Schools – that they feel supported and valued! I know there is change fatigue in many of the staff – I hope they can find joy in their work and not have to deal with the administration issues,” Dettmann said.

Overall, respondents of the survey are willing to make changes to better the district and community as a whole such as support a property tax increase for the purpose of expanding social/emotional programs or maintaining current programs. There are still concerns a large portion of the respondents stated as well as other residents/parents in the community such as the school district are not adequately funded and they don’t see how their money is going to things they care about.

Pelletier commented, “While taxpayers seem to feel that their property taxes are too high, they seem a little more willing to support taxes that positively affect things like career pathways, tech and curriculum improvements, and social-emotional supports.  All of those things seem to be important to our community, so it was nice to see that the focus in the district seems to be aligned.”

Overall, respondents of the survey are willing to make changes to better the district and community as a whole such support a property tax increase for the purpose of expanding social/emotional programs or maintaining current programs. As well the school district’s atmospherics, such as the quality of education and financial spending, remain steady. There are still concerns a large portion of the respondents stated as well as other residents/parents in the community such as the school district are not adequately funded. Parents agrees that the way for proper change to occur is through getting the communities voices heard.

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