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Schools

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Correction
Because of a reporter's error, a story and headline on a previous online version of this story Tuesday about Northwest Allen County Schools' board meeting contained incorrect information.
The story should have said that about 79 percent of survey respondents were opposed to increasing class sizes, but many more were opposed to budget cuts that would require the district to default on debt, cut or reduce salaries and benefits, reduce academic opportunities or eliminate transportation services.
According to the survey, 80.3 percent of responders said NACS should pass a referendum to fund scholastic and support services, and 81.9 percent said the district should pass a referendum to restore funding lost to property tax caps.
In addition, because of an editing error the story mistakenly had one reference identifying another school district in reference to the survey.

Survey finds sympathy for NACS money woes

The following story has been edited and updated to reflect the accompanying correction:

Taxpayers in the Northwest Allen County Schools district understand that the school board has been fiscally responsible and tough decisions are ahead that could include a possible referendum.

During Monday's board meeting, school leaders heard results from a survey that suggests many taxpayers are willing to support a referendum, and they understand the district's money woes.

"People in the Northwest Allen County district believe that they've been getting good value for their money," Andy Downs, an IPFW associate professor and director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, said.

Downs has been consulting with the district for guidance on the survey and presented the data during the board meeting. The survey results were gathered from 200 phone interviews with taxpayers conducted last month by volunteers that included school officials, staff and others.

The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percentage points, included questions about how much the community knows about the success of NACS students, such as ISTEP+ scores and graduation rates. The survey also asked taxpayers to help prioritize cuts.

The district lost about $1.7 million in 2011 and $1.6 million in 2010 because of cuts in state funding, according to Superintendent Chris Himsel. This year, the district advertised a budget of more than $64.7 million for 2014, Business Manager Bill Mallers said.

Himsel said 2015 will mark the first time in six years that the district's per-pupil funding level will be nearly the same as it was before the cuts began.

The biggest support for cuts was to increase class sizes – which is not technically a cut, but would save the district some money in staffing costs, Downs said.

About 79 percent of survey responders were opposed to increasing class sizes, but many more were opposed to budget cuts that would require the district to default on debt, cut or reduce salaries and benefits, reduce academic opportunities or eliminate transportation services.

"If you're looking for a road map, I'd discourage you from doing any of those things to accomplish what you're hoping to accomplish," Downs said.

According to the survey, 80.3 percent of responders said NACS should pass a referendum to fund scholastic and support services and 81.9 percent said the district should pass a referendum to restore funding lost to property tax caps.

Himsel said the data were collected by the district and Parent Teacher Organizations for information purposes only to see how much taxpayers know about NACS and how likely they would be to support a referendum.

"We've not made a decision on what we're going to do or not going to do based on the survey data," Himsel said.

The survey did not take into account whether taxpayers who responded have children who attend NACS.

A second survey was distributed to parents, and the results of the survey discussed Monday night will be available on the district's website, Himsel said.

jcrothers@jg.net

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