Public School District Patrons Defy Economy; Express Willingness to Support Increased School Taxes

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Patron Insight research shows that communities may be ready to support sensible proposals

The belief that “you can’t pass a tax increase in this economy” may be more fiction than fact – if the tax increase in question is to support public education, and if the school district has done a good job of involving its patrons in the process of budget cutting for the 2010-11 school year.

These results come from research conducted by Patron Insight, Inc. over the last six months for school districts across the Midwest. The findings suggest that residents – even though they are feeling the economic pinch – may be more willing to listen to a tax increase proposal than district leaders might think.

“It’s encouraging to hear school district patrons telling us ‘We know times are tough, but we’re not willing to give back generations of progress in public education, because of the weak economy,’” said Ken DeSieghardt. CEO/partner of Patron Insight, Inc., a Kansas City area company that specializes in strategic planning and research for public schools. “They’re telling us that they’re willing to listen to – and support – sensible proposals that protect public education as much as possible.”

A “sensible proposal,” the company’s research shows, is one whose need has been clearly documented in a factual, unemotional manner, and is one that doesn’t overreach. In other words, districts that ask for significantly more tax revenue than they actually need are risking not only a loss on election day, but also a loss of trust that could take years to overcome.

“Patrons are telling us they want to be supportive, but that there is a limit,” DeSieghardt said. “They would prefer that school districts not test that limit, but come to them with proposals that can be justified.”

Also important: Whether or not a school district has involved patrons in the budget-cutting process to date.

“Painful as it has been, the budget-cutting that has taken place over the last several months has been an opportunity for school districts to partner with patrons like never before,” DeSieghardt said. “If patrons have had a ‘seat at the budget table’ all along, then they know that the district has done everything it possibly can to trim the budget. It makes a sensible tax increase request the obvious next step.”

Such support is not universal among patrons of the company’s school district clients, DeSieghardt said, but it doesn’t seem to be limited to districts of certain sizes, locations or levels of wealth.

“The key appears to be whether the case has been made all along, and whether the proposal being considered is reasonable and seems sensible to the typical patron,” DeSieghardt said.

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Rick Nobles

Ken DeSieghardt

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