Exit survey shows strong support for Hudson schools

HUDSON–An exit survey conducted at the May 16 referendum on the Hudson City School District’s 2017-18 budget asked voters why they voted the way they did, how important various factors were in influencing their votes, and what additional comments they might have. The budget passed with 69% of the vote. Survey respondents revealed interest in and concern about educational quality and fiscal priorities.

Of the 289 individuals who answered the survey, 211 gave reasons they voted for the budget and 66 gave reasons they voted against it. Respondents indicated their answers by checking items on a list of possible reasons and some wrote in additional reasons.

Following are the percents of the 211 who checked reasons for voting “Yes” on the budget. These add up to more than 100%, because respondents could check more than one reason:

• I believe in investing in education; 90%

• The spending/tax increase is reasonable; 55%

• I have children or grandchildren in or who will be in the schools; 31%

• I was well-informed about the budget; 30%

• It addresses a specific area that is important to me; 18

Reasons for voting “Yes” that were written in on the survey form included:

• “There are some good teachers here—and we need to lure more of them”

• “The District has tried to hold the line on spending, keeping programs intact, and loving our kids! Keep it up!”

Meanwhile, following are responses from the 66 who checked listed reasons for voting “No.”

• The projected tax levy increase is unreasonable; 59

• I am unhappy with the school district in general; 50

• I do not have children/grandchildren in the schools 42

• I want to support it, but I cannot afford it; 26

• I did not feel well-informed about the budget; 24

Reasons for voting “No” that were written in included the following categories:

• “The budget should be used more wisely.”

• Some called for devoting more money to academics and learning and less to administrative salaries, employee health benefits or sports.

• “More money isn’t the answer”

One entry said, “The money never actually goes to what is promised.” Another declared, “More money does not equal more learning. Less internet equals more learning.”

• Taxes are too high

• One voter said that the unplanned-for additional state aid that the district found out it was going to get late in the spring budget process “should have gone back to the taxpayers!”

The extra money allowed the district to set the tax increase at 2.19% instead of the originally planned 2.8%. At a spring 2017 School Board meeting, Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier called the reduction to 2.19% a “give-back to the community,” but she defended the smaller tax increase, saying, “Where we leave off this year is where we start next year. We don’t know what next year will bring. There have been years when we’ve been dangerously close to cutting” programs.

• Displeasure at the closing of specific polling stations. One respondent called it “treating us like second class citizens.”

Last year the school board voted to stop using the Livingston and Stockport polling places and sent residents of those areas to vote in Claverack and Greenport

• Another respondent wrote, “School taxes should be paid by all, not just homeowners”

The last two of these concerns were expressed by one person each. The others represent the opinions of between two and six respondents.

Those who wrote in reasons for voting may also have checked reasons on the list. Also, the survey summary used for this report does not distinguish between entries written by different people and different entries by the same person.

Having children or grandchildren in District public schools may not have increased the chances that voters would approve the budget. Of the respondents who said they voted Yes, 31% checked that having children or grandchildren in or about to enter the schools was the reason. Of the respondents who said they voted No, 42% checked that not having children or grandchildren “in the schools” was a reason.

The survey also asked “how important” items were in determining voters’ choices. Over three-quarters of all respondents answered these questions. The factors listed below are followed by the percentages of respondents who rated the factor “Very Important”:

• Quality of educational programs; 95

• Funding for enrichment programs (e.g., art, music); 74

• Staying within the tax levy “cap”; 74

• Funding for special education; 64

• Funding for student activities (e.g., clubs); 63

This survey question also allowed provided space for respondents to write in comments. As with other write-in sections, no distinction could be made between entries by different people and different entries made by the same person.

Some entries in this section were similar to “reasons for voting No.” Others included:

• Encourage quality teaching

• “Get more good, well-qualified and well-educated teachers. And work hard to keep the ones you have”

• Encourage specific programs. One entry called for “business preparation,” another for “a bigger budget for music teachers at Intermediate.”

• There were also references to the declining student population. “We do not need more buildings,” wrote one respondent; another wrote, “The spending must stop”

• Rebuild reuse blighted existing buildings and properties.

A few respondents used the space to express their appreciation:

• “My daughter is a successful graduate of HCSD (1995). I believe education is the key to the future of our country”

• “Thanks to all who teach and guide our children!”

• And one person wrote, “Thank you!”

Only 5.25% of those eligible to vote in the May referendum did so. And of those, 289 (about 58%) responded to the exit survey. Those who answered the survey were more likely to have voted for the budget. Of the 289 respondents, 213 answered Yes to the question “How did you vote on the… proposed budget?” while 67 answered that they voted No. Nine people did not answer the question.

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