Survey Demonstrates School Tax Support

Friday May 21, 2004

While Berkeley voters seem inclined to support a new tax to boost funding for public schools, they give the school district mixed grades on achievement, according to a school district-commissioned survey released Wednesday. 

Three out of four likely Berkeley voters would support a $6.5 million tax—a $144 per year increase for the average homeowner—and about 70 percent of voters would support an $8 million tax—a $177 per year increase for the average homeowner. 

The survey, conducted by Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, interviewed 600 randomly selected, likely Berkeley voters between May 14 and 18. It has a plus or minus error of four percent. 

“A campaign will be necessary, but probably result in success,” Paul Goodwin, the survey director, told the school board Wednesday. The measure must win two-thirds voter approval in order to pass. 

The district is currently crafting a two-year tax measure expected to range from $6 million to $9 million to fund lower class sizes, more librarians, a stronger music program, teacher training, research and analysis services, and parent outreach programs. The measure will complement the current Berkeley Schools Excellence Program tax, which the district plans to return to voters in 2006. 

Voters backed all of the district’s priorities. Restoring the music program won 81 percent support in the survey, while boosting library services garnered 80 percent approval, reducing class size got 77 percent, and funding teacher training received 71 percent. 

In other good news for the district, 67 percent of those polled said that the amount of money being spent on the school district was too low and 50 percent named a lack of state funding as the district’s most serious problem. 

However, the district earned only a 35 percent positive job rating in the survey and 41 percent negative rating, virtually unchanged since the last survey in 2000. 

Evaluations for the quality of instruction (38 percent positive and 35 percent negative) and spending money efficiently (15 percent positive and 47 percent negative) were also almost unchanged from 2000. 

Surveyed Berkeley voters, however, now give the district much higher ratings for maintaining and repairing school buildings and grounds. Forty-one percent now view the district’s efforts positively compared to 18 percent in 2000. BUSD has renovated every school in the past 12 years. 

Asked to identify their most serious concerns about the district, 57 percent of surveyed voters cited low academic standards, 55 percent cited large class sizes, and 52 percent cited lack of student discipline. 

—Matthew Artz