Community Survey Results
In an effort to engage the entire community, District residents were asked about various long-term priorities related to educational programs, communication preferences, and educational services wants. In addition, a portion focused on the upcoming referendum. The main themes and results of referendum specific questions are presented here.
How likely are you to support an operational referendum beginning in July of 2020?
- I would definitely support it = 39.64%
- I would probably support it = 36.76%
- I would probably not support it = 11.71%
- I would definitely not support it = 11.89%
I would vote "yes" on a referendum question if I felt that it was the correct solution and if it had no tax increase.
Focus Group Results
The Board of Education held five 60-minute focus groups with four separate community groups and one group of employees. The District partnered with the Donovan Group, a public relations and marketing firm, to facilitate these focus groups. Participants were asked to weigh in on referendum-related topics to guide the Board's authorization of an April 7, 2020 referendum question. The main themes from the focus groups are presented below.
Theme 1: The district should pursue an operational referendum.
Across the board, among all participants, there was unanimous agreement that the district should go to referendum to replace the expiring referendum. No disagreements were voiced.
Theme 2: The district should not make additional cuts.
For all participants, there were no suggestions that the district should make cuts in light of its expiring referendum.
Theme 3: No sticker shock.
Often, when focus group participants were first presented with tax impact numbers for a potential referendum, there is a reaction of concern or even scorn or disillusionment. We call this sticker shock. We did not have sticker shock in any discernible way during our focus group conversations. Some participants noted that the community had “come to expect” the district coming to voters for a referendum and there was no concern for the district in doing so.
Theme 4: Stability.
If there was one central theme in all of the focus group conversations it was “stability”. Focus group participants noted that they appreciated that there was financial stability in the district. Participants contrasted the School District of Fort Atkinson with a neighboring district that is facing dire financial challenges. Participants also noted that they wanted “stability” and “sustainability” in the future. Often, these words were used to compare and contrast the various options under consideration.
Theme 5: The projected mill rate presented in the referendum questions was not considered to be a barrier.
As noted, there was no “sticker shock” for any of the options presented and the impact numbers suggested were not seen to be a barrier for any of the focus group members as expressed in their conversations.
Theme 6: The question of a recurring versus non-recurring referendum.
As with the focus groups held in advance of the last referendum, among all focus group sessions, there were wide discussions about whether the referendum should be recurring or non-recurring in nature. Most of the participants said that they personally liked the recurring nature of the referendum because it provided for ongoing sustainability for the district. But several of those same participants expressed concern about whether their fellow community members would support such a referendum. A few participants noted that it was a positive for the district to make their case to the community every few years for the sake of accountability or because the funds the district needs may increase in time.
There was a general consensus that a non-recurring referendum, or one in which a non-recurring referendum was part of the solution, was preferred. Participants who asked about what was passed last time seem to desire the recurring and non-recurring option again this time.
Theme 7: There was speculation among participants about whether the amount included in the referenda presented is enough.
In one focus group meeting, participants noted that the four options were very similar and that, if passed, the increased revenue limit authority would not allow the district to increase programming, but simply keep pace. Several participants noted that they wished the district could continue efforts to improve programs and services with more revenue. Participants in all of the sessions asked if the amount requested was adequate and provided sustainability for the district.
Theme 8: Participants are very pleased with the school district.
There was clear consensus across all of the groups that the School District of Fort Atkinson is a good school district. In every group, participants spoke of it as being “forward-thinking” or “progressive” in efforts to address the needs of students. Another popular theme is that the district was “diverse” and that this diversity was a very good thing for the district. It is worth noting here that the reaction of participants to the first question was not that the district is “just okay” or “satisfactory” but as expressed by participants, far better than that.
Theme 9: Confusion between operational needs and facility needs.
During the focus group meetings, participants asked several times if the operational information is presented related to the facilities-related work underway. Participants expressed some confusion on the subject. This should be resolved if the district moves forward with an operational referendum.
Theme 10: No lack-of-trust indicators.
Usually, when we conduct focus groups, the issue of trust arises. Even if the focus group participants themselves note that they trust the district, often the issue of trust manifests itself with participants noting that their neighbors may not share their trust in the district. While this was not a major theme when we conducted focus group meetings in advance of the district’s last referendum, the issue of trust did come up in focus group meetings, just as it normally does in such conversations. It is important to note that during our conversations this time around, the issue of trust was never brought up. In fact, the opposite is true: Not only were there no indicators of lack of trust, but there were also plenty of indicators of strong trust in the community for its school administration and board.