Mayoral Control Survey Informs the Community and Empowers Decisionmakers

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff, Democrat & Chronicles.

Kent GardnerReaction to CGR’s survey on mayoral control, conducted with partner Metrix Matrix Inc (MMI), has reinforced what the survey revealed: Our community cares deeply about this issue and the education of our city’s children. The only prior test of community sentiment was a relatively small telephone survey of parents. Yet parents-to-be, grandparents, resident property owners, renters, and resident business owners all have a stake in the effectiveness of the schools. And all can vote in Board of Education and mayoral elections.

CGR is a Rochester-based nonprofit that empowers community decisions through objective and nonpartisan information and analysis. We support and advise both the City and the School District, as well as many other local entities. Approached by Jim Antonevich of MMI to partner in this survey, we knew the risks: One side or the other in this heated debate would find the results not to their liking and be tempted to accuse us of bias. But this is why we were founded by George Eastman 95 years ago. Ol’ George would roll over in his grave if we backed away for fear of upsetting someone! So we agreed to work with MMI and share the cost. CGR’s portion was paid out of contributions to our Fund for the Public Interest.

First planned as a telephone survey, we chose a mail survey instead. Cellphones (with numbers unlisted), voicemail/answering machines, and caller ID have complicated the business of polling. Nationally, a quarter to a third of households no longer have landlines. And we confirmed the problem—of our list of randomly selected addresses, fully 40% didn’t have listed numbers. We judged—correctly, as it turned out—that the issue was important enough to residents to guarantee a solid response rate by mail. Of 1,750 surveys mailed out, 435 were returned by the deadline for a very strong 26% response rate, high enough to confer scientific validity on the results.

Across the entire sample, 63% supported mayoral control and 23% opposed it. We were surprised by such one-sided results, as the earlier survey of parents reported the opposite finding. It reinforces a simple truth: As a community, we aren’t satisfied with the current state of affairs and believe that we must do better. Too many young lives are at risk.

Few polls are perfect; ours has its flaws. We received too few responses from some groups and more than we needed from others. As an example, only 20 respondents identified themselves as Hispanic/Latino (too few to report, as 20 can’t be considered representative). However, we did have reportable numbers from African-American households, households with school-aged children, young community members, older residents, etc. The overall finding holds up from group to group. See for detailed results and a more technical version of this essay.

These results put the Board of Education (BoE) in a difficult place. While some are quick to blame the board for the status quo, we know that the board, with support from Superintendent Brizard, approved some excellent new programs and policies in recent years. Nor has the Duffy Administration’s planning been flawless: Some of the policies included in their plans are already in place, implemented by this board.

MMI & CGR set out to make a contribution to the debate that is objective, independent, and scientifically valid. We’ve done our job, to inform the community and empower continued discussion.

Kent Gardner, Ph.D. President & Chief Economist
Abbreviated Version Published in the Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle April 3, 2010