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SPOTLIGHT
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Maize survey: Families prefer feeder system for schools

Published on -6/12/2014, 4:56 PM

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By Suzanne Perez Tobias

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) A scientific survey of Maize school district patrons showed "very clearly" that most families don't want traditional geographic attendance boundaries, according to the survey report.

The survey findings, conducted by Patron Insight and presented to Maize school board members this week, showed more support for creating a feeder system or keeping the current system for student placement.

Unlike most school districts, Maize has no geographical boundary lines that determine where a child goes to school. Instead, families with students in fifth and eighth grades submit preference cards indicating which middle or high school they would like their children to attend. The district assigns children to elementary schools during their initial enrollment, and siblings follow one another through the district.

The school board has been grappling with the issue of student placement for more than a year. A community task force was formed after some Maize parents, whose children initially did not get their preferred school assignments, urged the district to explore boundaries or other options that would better clarify which schools students attend.

School board vice president Wendi White said the board plans to discuss the survey findings during a workshop June 23. Board members could vote on a new placement system as early as July 14, their next regular meeting.

"At the end of the day, we're going to do what we feel is best for the most people," White said Wednesday. "Hopefully everybody will then rally behind us, and we'll get this moving forward and not be at this stalemate anymore.

"It's something that we have spent a lot of time on and we all care very deeply about," she said. "But we want to also get it off of our plate."

The Patron Insight telephone survey was conducted over about two weeks in May. It included a random sample of 343 parents or guardians who had students below high school age in the Maize district or who will have a student in the district within the next two years. Its margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.

When asked to select their first, second and third choice among three options, 42 percent said "leave it as it is right now," followed by feeder system with 37 percent and boundaries with 21 percent.

However, when a weighted scale was applied, taking into account the intensity of views on each of the three options, a feeder system was a slight favorite over the status quo, said survey author Ken DeSieghardt.

"It's clear to me as I looked at the information that there is kind of a belief that a feeder system may be ... a better version of what exists right now," said DeSieghardt, CEO of Patron Insight, based in Stilwell.

"People have an appreciation for what has taken place to date and also have an appreciation for wanting some certainty" about which schools their children would attend.

An online survey of 1,089 community members -- not statistically reliable but conducted for supplemental information -- showed that 39 percent preferred a feeder system, 31 percent favored the current process and 26 percent preferred boundaries.

An online survey of 284 staff members showed that 44 percent wanted boundaries, 36 percent favored a feeder system, and 18 percent liked the current system.

The telephone survey did not ask about specific feeder-pattern plans but about the idea in general, DeSieghardt said. Similarly, respondents weren't asked about specific boundary lines but the principle of geographic boundaries.

Potential options presented to board members by the task force earlier this year included one that suggested a feeder system that crosses the district: Three elementary schools would feed to Maize South Middle School and then to Maize High; two elementary schools would feed to Maize Middle School and Maize South High.

Another plan suggested building a third middle school -- something the board also is considering -- and having two middle schools feed into Maize High and one into Maize South.

District spokeswoman Lori O'Toole Buselt said the board would decide whether a feeder system would assign students to elementary schools or allow families to voice preferences, as they do now for middle and high schools.

"The survey was not intended to test public opinion on a specific model," Buselt said. "It was more to gauge the support of the general philosophies of student placement."

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle

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