District to offer incentives for survey

USD 257 will ask parents to fill out an economic survey at enrollment, despite earlier concerns. They'll offer an incentive to encourage participation.



June 16, 2021 - 9:26 AM

Board member Jennifer Taylor and Superintendent Stager Fager listen to discussion on a household economic survey. Photo by Tim Stauffer / Iola Register

In spite of prior concerns about privacy and a hesitancy on behalf of parents, local board members voted Monday evening to move forward with a plan to ask parents to complete a household economic survey at enrollment. The district will also offer an incentive for parents to do so. 

“This information is critical for our district,” said USD 257 board president Dan Willis. The data, used to calculate the number of students who qualify for free- or reduced-price meals, is vital to understanding the level of poverty in the school district and is also used to determine at-risk funding.

Parents of middle and high school students who complete the survey will receive a $20 discount on the technology fee, while parents of elementary students won’t pay anything for their children’s yearbook if they complete the survey. Parents normally pay $12 for the yearbook.

Superintendent Stacey Fager suggested the incentive. “We won’t know if this works unless we try,” said Fager. “And if we try this and see no improvement, then the incentive can be eliminated.” 

The school district cannot force parents to complete the survey, nor can they prevent someone from enrolling because they don’t complete the survey. But, according to Fager, a higher percentage of parents completing the survey will allow for the district to get a better sense of the economic realities students face.

It’s also a good year to try a strategy for higher survey completion, noted Fager, as the USDA and Kansas Department of Education will continue to provide all students with free meals this year, as they did last year at the start of the pandemic. That means the district won’t risk losing any funding this year with low completion rates. 

Board member Jennifer Coltrane wondered if the whole technology fee could be waived for families who qualified for free- and reduced-price meals, while families who can afford to pay more, do so by paying the full technology fee. But the idea was thought to be too complex for district officials to carry out. 

After some additional discussion, the board voted unanimously to support the incentive plan along with sending parents a letter later this summer explaining why the household economic survey matters. “It’s our duty to inform our patrons that there are ramifications for filling out this survey,” said Fager. “We owe it to our patrons to explain exactly why we’re asking them to provide this information.” 

IN OTHER developments, board members approved purchase of the Reveal Math curriculum for middle and high school. The program, developed by education company McGraw Hill, covers a variety of math subjects and comes at a cost of just over $57,800 for a six-year bundle. Elementary instructors have already adopted the curriculum.

On a similar note, Superintendent Fager notified board members that the Kansas State Board of Education voted to allow computer science to count  as a core math or science credit toward high school graduation. While likely not something the high school can implement this year, Fager discussed considering whether the district would be interested in offering high school students a computer science credit, likely in place of a third math class.

While the high school does offer several classes in Robotics and engineering, “We don’t have a true computer science class, one that involves coding,” remarked Fager. The board would thus need to consider if a computer science credit would involve collaboration with Allen Community College or other institutions. 

PROGRESS on the district’s new science center continues rapidly, with materials for the building’s ceiling set to arrive early next month. A ribbon cutting is tentatively scheduled for mid-August.

The site of the new elementary school is “a beehive of activity,” according to Willis. All of the building’s footings, an important part of the foundation, are installed. And in spite of losing several weeks of work this spring due to rain, work on the roof is set to begin in the coming weeks. The third project of a bond issue passed in 2019, the replacement of the mechanicals at Iola Middle School, is on track for completion before the new school year.

BOARD members accepted the resignations of Danielle Bagshaw, Jim Berry and Monica Northcutt. Mike Wilhelm, Angela Wilhem, Zeke Hermreck and Tina Martin are new hires, while Camille Kerr and Carmen Shafter remain district employees but will transfer to different positions.