Rancho Santa Fe School board votes against proposed parent survey


By Karen Billing

Rancho Santa Fe School District Trustee Todd Frank proposed the idea of conducting a school-wide parent survey but did not receive the majority vote of support needed from his fellow board members at the board’s Feb. 7 meeting (final vote was 2-2, with one trustee absent).

Frank said he thought it would be a good way to get significant feedback from the parents, particularly the “non-vocal, non-complainers,” for strategic planning and goal setting.

“It’s a way to prioritize actions based on objective data rather than ‘I feel’ or ‘I heard,’” Frank said.

District Superintendent Lindy Delaney did not support the idea of a survey.

“With all due respect, I don’t personally feel the need for survey,” Delaney said. “For me, taking a look at the organization as a whole, not that there isn’t room for improvement, but I think we’re doing really well.”

She said the district works hard to maintain very open communication with the parents and people are always coming to her with their concerns.

“I don’t see a lot of people coming to the board meetings to say they’re unhappy with what’s going on,” Delaney said. “Unless there’s an overpowering or overwhelming question I think we should just be happy and enjoy where we are.”

Board President Marti Ritto and Vice President Richard Burdge voted against Frank’s motion to request that Delaney come back with some possible survey topics. Board member Tyler Seltzer supported the motion although he said he had some concerns about a survey.

Seltzer said he’s always leery about asking about a specific topic— for example, if they asked about the trees in front of the school, 99 percent might have never even noticed them but when asked, 36 percent could say they don’t like them.

Todd Buchner was not in attendance when the vote was called as he was coaching a basketball game, but later returned to the meeting.

Frank said there are really endless topics to be surveyed, but the challenge would be to narrow it down to the most desirable, most actionable and most relevant.

Frank said the survey would not be a decision-making tool on its own or a voting booth, but a way to provide input to the board and district as they make decisions for the district, as well as being a way to prompt discussions.

He pointed to a sample survey done by the Woodside Elementary School District in Northern California with a similar demographic to Rancho Santa Fe. The school district surveys its parents every three years.

“Generally I’m not an advocate of surveys but I was blown away by this [survey proposal],” said parent Glen Oratz. “I believe it’s an opportunity for the board to gain a better understanding of the areas the school does well and areas for future development.”

Oratz said it doesn’t have to be a negative thing, it’s just a way for parents to proactively share feedback with the board.

Oratz referenced the RSF Association board meeting about the roundabouts earlier in the day that had a room full of people.

“People tend to rise and rally when there’s a controversial issue, unfortunately we don’t have a room full of parents. That means most of the parents feel things are going great, but it doesn’t mean parents don’t have valuable input,” Oratz said.

Woodside uses the Social Science Research Lab at San Diego State University for its surveys. The lab would prepare the online survey, synthesize and summarize results, and help with interpretation support for a cost of $4,000.

“If anyone has anything dramatic, (Delaney) is the first to know about it and it gets vetted and discussed by the board,” Burdge said, bringing up their recent discussion of the Spanish program. “I don’t think it’s necessary to spend money to ask a myriad of questions.”

Oratz asked if their opinions would change if the survey was underwritten and Delaney said she still thought it would be unnecessary.