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Survey Says: Voters suggest J.J. Smith stay at current site

By Brenda Sexton, The Courier-Herald

The message to the Enumclaw School Board came through strong and clear: residents are not likely to support a new elementary school on property north of town near Thunder Mountain Middle School.

The school board has spent the past month or two digesting the results of the random telephone survey, which was precipitated by the failure of the district's $42.9 million bond. That ballot measure would have built, on district-owned property near Thunder Mountain Middle School, a school to replace J.J. Smith Elementary which the district was hoping to raze. It would also have provided funds for remodeling and upgrades at many other schools in the district. A slight majority of district voters supported the bond in May 2003 - 50.07 percent "yes" to 49.93 percent "no" - but school districts require 60 percent to pass.

The board was looking for answers when the district's bond company, Seattle-Northwest Securities, stepped forward and hired a research company to find the answers. The survey of about 250 households was conducted Oct. 2-10, 2003, by Oregon-based Conkling, Fiskum and McCormick, Inc.

A total of 29 questions, including a few general questions about where a person lives and whether they have children in the district, were on the list, as well as specific questions like "name a good thing the district is doing" or "tell us something wrong with the district." Interviewees were then asked to gauge, on a scale of 1 to 5, a variety of questions dealing with facilities and other issues.

"The one thing I think we got clearly out of this survey is that's (moving J.J. Smith) what they don't want," said district business director Tim Madden.

The survey results show district residents oppose a $45.4 million proposal to improve school facilities, 42 percent for to 47 percent against. "The primary reason residents don't favor the proposal," the summary states, "is the relocation of the J.J. Smith Elementary School."

Concern about taxes is a secondary issue. There is also no strong base of support for the proposal within any single demographic subgroup, the survey pointed out, and there is no consensus that school facilities are old and need repair (47 percent agreed and 36 percent disagreed) or that the exterior of school buildings and surrounding areas need improvement.

Those responding to the survey supported improvements and a new roof at Enumclaw Middle School most. Second in their ranking were transportation center upgrades, along with a handful of other items like roof work at other schools. Renovation at Black Diamond, Kibler and Westwood elementary schools were listed as residents' number three, four and five choices. Building upgrades at Enumclaw High were sixth and building a J.J. Smith Elementary near Thunder Mountain was last.

Board president Nancy Merrill said the disappointing and frustrating part of the survey is the board doesn't know if the people interviewed voted or not in the bond election. But, she said, if the community is saying it would support the building of a new school on the existing site then that's what the board should do.

The board met in a study session Feb. 2 to further examine its options. Merrill expects there will be more research and study before the board takes action. The bond is expected to be an action item on the board's Feb. 23 agenda.

With bond rates holding steady and the need still perceived to be strong, Merrill anticipates the board will opt to put the bond, or a version of it, on the May ballot.

"I'm pretty certain I'm not talking out of line, as a board we're looking at May," she said.

Overall Enumclaw School District residents have favorable opinions about the district. Roughly half, 47 percent, gave the district an A or B grade for its overall performance. Overall, survey results indicated residents were pleased with the district's teachers (51 percent) and education/curriculum (46 percent). Parents of students are more impressed with the district than other residents, 57 percent giving it an A or B grade. One in four residents, 49 percent, don't know enough about the district to grade its efforts. Residents age 55 and older and those who never had children in local schools are among the most uniformed about district activities.

The top concern among residents, and no surprise to board members, measuring 13 percent, was the high school's reinvention process. The next top four concerns, each registering 8 percent, were administration/school board, academic standards, poor high school and lack of communication.

Another 30 percent of those interviewed said they had no areas of concern with the district.

The survey summary pointed out the district needs to improve its communication with residents and should take a leading role in providing the community with information about education and district issues. The survey went on to say, residents primarily get information about education issues from non-district sources, the top source being The Courier-Herald (35 percent) and neighbors and other citizens (18 percent). School employees (16 percent) and students (12 percent) rounded out the top four sources of information.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com

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