Building Consensus

Report on why the school levy failed

By Sue Groves
Michelle Jeffers
Jay Miller

In the 2016 general election, a proposal for an excess school levy appeared on the Pocahontas County ballot. The levy proposal was defeated by a margin of 2 to 1. The Building Consensus Committee, a group of county citizens not affiliated with the Board of Education or school system, conducted a study to understand why it failed.

The study consisted of two parts: a series of focus groups held with community organizations, and a questionnaire. After asking whether each respondent voted for or against the proposal, the questionnaire had two broader sections. The first measured the degree of support or opposition for the five major parts of the levy proposal; the second asked respondents to comment on the reasons they either supported or opposed the levy. The questionnaire was distributed to focus group attendees, school employees, and the general public (via a random mail survey of 450 residents who voted in the general election).

We were disappointed that residents who voted against the levy were much less likely to respond to the mail survey than those who voted for it. Whereas, two-thirds of actual voters in the 2016 general election voted against the levy, only about a third of survey respondents said they voted against; the results were the same for each of the two mailings we conducted. Therefore, we are unable to say how closely the tallies of responses shown in Part 1 of this report align with those of the general public. The numerous thoughtful comments we received (which are discussed in Part 2 of this report) provided the most surprising and enlightening views on issues affecting the levy.

Part 1 – The Data

In the first major section of the questionnaire, we asked respondents to indicate the degree of their support or opposition to each of the five major parts of the levy proposal – using language that appeared on the ballot. In the table below we have tallied the responses to this section of the questionnaire by (1) all respondents, (2) school employees vs. all other respondents, and (3) respondents who voted for vs. those who voted against. (Note: The number of respondents in sub-groups may not add up to the total number of respondents because not everyone answered every question.)

Some observations about the data: First, 81 percent of all respondents support major improvements and renovations to Green Bank Elementary/Middle School, including nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of those who voted against the levy. This issue is a clear winner for any future levy proposal.

Second, a majority (53 percent) of all respondents oppose moving seventh and eighth grade students to the high school, including a whopping 84 percent of those who voted against the levy. This issue is a clear loser for any future levy proposal.

Third, 74 percent of all respondents support major improvements to Pocahontas County High School, including nearly half (46 percent) of those who voted against the levy. This point is remarkable because the levy proposal did not include information about which improvements would be made, or the project cost and schedule. This issue could be a winner if a specific plan were presented to voters.

Fourth, while a majority of respondents (59 percent) support closing Marlinton Elementary School and moving students to an expanded facility on Beard Heights (where Marlinton Middle School is now located), respondents who voted against the levy were evenly divided (43 percent support and 44 percent oppose). Given that two-thirds of actual voters in the 2016 general election voted against the levy, such soft support for closing MES should be considered carefully in any future levy proposal.

Fifth, while about two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) who voted against the levy were also opposed to raising property taxes, the remaining third (35 percent) indicated support for increased taxes or were neutral on the matter. This seeming anomaly will be explored in Part 2 of the report.

Finally, there is no significant difference in response patterns between voters who are school employees and those who are not. Support or opposition to each of the levy’s major parts is either identical or very close for both groups. It would appear that school employees, as a group, reflect the sentiment of the community at large regarding the levy proposal.

Part 2 will be published in the July 6 edition of The Pocahontas Times

This report was prepared by Sue Groves, Michelle Jeffers and Jay Miller working as the Building Consensus Committee. The Committee is independent of the Pocahontas County Board of Education and school administration; all expenses were borne by the Committee’s members.

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