PRINCETON — The Princeton Elementary School District Board has approved a community survey to learn why their $35 million referendum question wasn’t more widely supported in the Nov. 6, 2018, election. It will also guide them as to whether or not they should prepare a new referendum for the March 2020 election.
Voters in 2018 decided against the plan to build a new grades 3-8 school and consolidate their remaining buildings. It was defeated by 196 votes, with 2,721 votes against it, and 2,525 votes in favor. The margin of defeat was approximately 52 percent to 48 percent.
In Bureau County, it was defeated in 14 precincts (Arispie, Bureau, Dover, Indiantown, Princeton 1, 4, 5, 6 and 9, Selby 1 and 2, Walnut 2, Wheatland and Wyanet 1), won in seven precincts (Milo, Ohio 2, Princeton 2, 3, 7 and 8, and Wyanet 2) and tied in two precincts (Leepertown and Berlin). In addition, two people in Putnam County voted on the measure, one in favor, one opposed.
“We hope this will help us to better understand why people either voted for or against the referendum,” Steve Bouslog, newly elected board president, said at the May 8 special meeting.
Following the election defeat, the board decided against rushing forward with either the same question, or an altered plan, in time for the April 2019 Consolidated Election.
Instead, the board used that time to work with local residents Laura Kann and Wick Warren to develop a community survey. Bouslog said Kann and Warren have professional experience developing surveys with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and that the pair had generously volunteered their services.
1,200 voters to be surveyed
The survey is expected to soon be mailed to the homes of about 1,200 registered voters in the district, with a June return date. It’s predicted roughly 400 surveys will be returned. To help encourage participation, some sort of incentive will be included. The board previously approved a cost of no more than $2,000.
An advisory committee will help evaluate the district’s options for its buildings, including the construction of a new building, consolidation, maintaining them as they are, remodeling and land options. The committee will also include both members who supported and were against the defeated referendum.
“They would not be involved with any design or land usage decisions,” Bouslog previously said.
The approved survey is three pages long, and the first four questions are related to demographics. Bouslog said he was told by the survey developers that responses will be higher if it begins with some “soft questions.”
“This will also give us an idea of who the responders are and to help us understand if we have a nice cross-section and representative sample of the community,” he added.
Four questions will ask why people responded the way they did to the referendum. The answers will be restricted to one response in hopes the board will learn of the biggest issues that led voters to either support or oppose the plan.
Board member Terry O’Neill requested some of the questions be amended by changing some of the language in the survey. He said the board should be careful with the nuances of the language, and he felt some of it could be interpreted as aggressive or suggestively leading toward a certain opinion.
A question asking why people didn’t support the plan didn’t include a choice O’Neill said he’s heard given by many he’s talked to — that the purchase of land was unnecessary. Another was related to an excessive cost, both the $35 million overall cost, and its subsequent effect on property tax bills.
Another amended question related to the specific features included in the plan and what the biggest issue was that would make voters either support of oppose it.
The board voted 3-2 in support of O’Neill’s proposed amendment and 3-1 in favor of the survey. Board members Doris Hamilton, Terry O’Neill and Judd Lusher voted for both the survey and the amendment with Bouslog against them. Board member J.P. Aley abstained from the survey vote and voted against the amendment. Mark Frank and Elizabeth Arkels were absent.
The next Princeton Elementary School Board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 20 in Tiskilwa.