Why didn't you answer school survey?

This year it was available online and on paper, but only 11.8 percent of the parents responded.

Published May 15, 2007

LAND O'LAKES - How satisfied are parents with Pasco County's public schools?

Who knows?

Just 11.8 percent of them answered a 25-question survey seeking their views on such issues as whether their children have adequate access to computers and whether the school provides a safe environment for teaching and learning.

Though better than last year's paltry 6.4 percent response, this year's slim return still offers little meaningful information to educators who had hoped to use the results to guide future plans.

Any conclusions "should be weighed in light of the low rate, " district researchers cautioned in their introduction to a 160-page report on the annual survey.

Duly noted, said School Board chairwoman Marge Whaley.

"I don't think it's very credible, " Whaley said. "This was a year we were to pull out all the stops, tell parents it was on the Internet. It didn't work."

She suggested that sending the form home in kids' backpacks and offering a free bag of popcorn with every returned survey would work better. In fact, when the district conducted its survey that way as recently as 2004, nearly 30 percent of parents filled it out and sent it back.

This year, the district continued to offer free food to students whose parents turned in the survey. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino and some principals recorded messages that went out to homes reminding parents about the questionnaire.

And though the district moved heavily to an online version of the survey, it made the paper one available, too. No stamped return envelopes, though.

The upshot? The numbers coming back to the district dipped, especially among elementary school families. In 2004, more than 11, 000 returned the survey. This year, just over 3, 800 did.

"We are still investigating other ways that we can improve our response rate, " said Peggy Jones, a supervisor in the research and evaluation department of the school district.

Board vice chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, who has two children at Longleaf Elementary, attested to the district's effort on multiple fronts to get parents to fill out the form. She sent one back for each child, but figured the dearth of responses had something to do with "how it is" these days for busy families.

"I'm disappointed that more parents don't participate. But it's like voting, " Starkey said. "If you have an opinion, you need to give it."

If you had, then the school district might be able to take something away from the fact that 76 percent of elementary parents were satisfied with their school's environment compared to 57 percent of high school parents. Or that 23 percent of parents overall were dissatisfied with bus transportation to and from school.

"We're trying, obviously, to find out if there are things we need to do better and what they are, " Whaley said. "But it's not working."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.