News
Survey gives school district high grades

By John McLoone

The Hastings School District commissioned a survey on a wide range of topics. Most notable in the result is that the more than 400 residents surveyed gave the school district high marks on educating the district’s students.

The Hastings School Board reviewed findings at a work session April 13.

The survey questioned residents on a number of topics, notably attitude toward future levy renewal and increases, tax implications and community perceptions on how the district is doing.

“The results suggest the district is seen as doing really well, which is important given the significant disruption and change since the 2017 survey, and that 92 percent of respondents link strong schools with community well being,” according to a statement from the school district.

“Residents gave Hastings Public Schools high marks for a variety of areas,” according to the district. “They were asked to provide an overall grade for the district, and 65 percent of respondents gave the district A’s and B’s. When compared to a national benchmark for this information, Hastings Public Schools has a much higher proportion of A and B grades. In addition, when compared to the 2017 survey, the grades are almost exactly the same.”

“Respondents were also asked the reason for the grade they provided. Quality of instruction was ranked the highest. And, after removing the reasons of ‘other’ and ‘no response,’ Leadership and Management were the secondhighest reason provided for the grade. Specific to Financial Management, 33 percent of respondents had no opinion. However, of the remaining respondents, 43 percent gave the district grades of A and B. Again, these grades remain consistent with the responses from 2017.

“While there is still more to be done, the work of our staff and students shines through. Thank you to the Hastings community for the continued support of our wonderful school district,” the district statement continued.

Interviews with 401 registered voters were completed between March 18 and March 30. The survey included 36 questions with an average interview time of just under 14 minutes. The interview was overseen by Don Lifto of Baker Tilley, who presented findings to the board.

He told the board that the margin of error in the survey is plus/minus 4.9 percent. He said that home and cell phones are called to survey.

Regarding the number of A and B grades respondents gave Hastings schools, Lifto said that’s a huge positive, given the political climate in America right now, compared to when the last survey was completed in 2017.

“As you can see you compared very, very favorably. The ratios of As and Bs was very good,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Robert McDowell commented, “You think back to what has happened after 2017. In a couple instances, there were some significant district things that took place locally. We went through COVID. We went through a year of remote learning. To get a response of those grading the district as favorably as they did, I think that’s huge to see.”

“I agree with that,” board member Stephanie Malm said. “What I’ve received from the community from feedback is we get it. We know what’s going on. It’s awful for everybody. Keep fighting the good fight.”

Here’s a closer look at survey topics: Operating levy

Residents were provided a statement about the district’s operating levy, that expires in 2024. The question states, “This levy provides about $2.6 million in funding for classroom programs and materials each year. To reduce the size of future budget cuts, the District may ask voters to renew the current levy for another 10 years. Renewing this levy would continue existing funding without raising property taxes.”

An overwhelming 79 percent of respondents were in favor of renewing the operating levy, while 15 percent opposed it.

The district moved on to a question of whether there would be support to increase the amount of the levy with a tax increase. Respondents were tepid to that option. Just 43 percent were in favor, while 42 percent were opposed and 15 percent had no opinion.

Funding options

Residents were then given options on what the funding could be used for, such as “support of struggling students,” continue options for earning college credit,” “additional mental health resources,” and avoiding cuts to athletics.” All those things triggered a positive response from voters.

It was interesting to note that renters were more likely to give a positive response to the spending question than were homeowners.

“Renters are always significantly more supportive than homeowners,” said Lifto.

When provided more information, 56.9 percent would support additional funding, while 42.7 were in opposition.

In the area of financial management, 43 percent of respondents gave the district an A or B grade, with 8 percent giving D or F grades. A third of respondents had no answer for the question.

Taxes

An interesting question was whether respondents “would never vote for a tax increase, no matter the amount or how the money raised would be used.” Results were similar to 2017 findings, as 81 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement. Just 16 percent either strongly agreed or agreed with never supporting a tax increase.

April 27, 2022