School choice survey "skewed?"
Armstrong says survey too expensive, susceptible to fraud
Video by fox4now.comvideo
FORT MYERS - The Lee County School District is spending up to $112,754 to get your take on school choice.
Fox 4 obtained a rough draft of the survey which will be sent to parents and students sometime next month (see "related documents"). But school board member Don Armstrong worries the survey could bring in skewed results.
"This is my mistake," said Armstrong. "As a board member I should have looked at this and been more responsible."
The survey, which isn't complete just yet, asks parents to rate the importance of diversity, short bus rides and the ability to choose where their kid goes to school.
Armstrong says the $112,000 price tag is too much and isn't happy that an Austin, Tex. based company, Gibson Consulting, is getting the contract to commission the survey instead of a local company.
"With all due respect Mr. Armstrong you voted for this," said Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.
"This is correct I did," said Armstrong, who admitted not reading through the materials. "I believe I made a mistake by voting for this."
By comparison, last year's transportation audit cost $76,000.
A district spokesperson wouldn't say how many southwest Florida companies submitted bids. But the job was posted on the district's Web site and open to anyone, according to spokesperson Joe Donzelli.
"In addition, for this project, District staff conducted research to identify specific vendors who met the minimum requirements (regardless of their geographic location)," Donzelli said in a statement, "and notified them of the pending opportunity."
The district offered Gibson Consulting a one year contract to design, administer and analyze results from the survey. The contract won't exceed $112,000 and there is a "possibility" the final amount will be less, said Donzelli.
"The question you really should be asking," said Donzelli, "is how much money will doing all of our due diligence save in the future."
But Armstrong worries the survey carries security risks that could skew results.
"It's very easy to get around these security measures that they put in place," said Armstrong. "So people could take this [survey] multiple times."
As a security measure, the anonymous survey asks for the last three-digits of your phone number and the last two letters of your mother's name. Presumably, this is so a computer system can weed out duplicates.
But Armstrong says there is nothing to stop somebody from making that information up to cheat the system, potentially skewing a survey that could decide the fate of school choice in Lee County.
"The public is paying for an accurate survey," said Armstrong. "And I want to make sure that's what they get."
The survey is still being tinkered with. It will go out sometime next month.
District answers your questions
Below are some of our questions and the District's response:
Q: Out of the five companies considered for this job, how many were from Lee County? Were local companies actively sought out?
A: All RFPs (Request for Proposals) are advertised on our Procurement Web page – and all vendors who are currently providing services or those who contact the District to provide services are advised as such. In addition, for this project, District staff conducted research to identify specific vendors who met the minimum requirements (regardless of their geographic location) and notified them of the pending opportunity.
Q: At least one board member says the survey is "biased" in favor of school choice - does the District have a response to claims the survey is "skewed?"
A: I am not sure why this has been conveyed to you – there is no final version of the survey; it is in a very preliminary stage at this point (i.e. DRAFT.) Every Board member, including the one who provided it to you, has the opportunity to bring any and all concerns forward so the District can work with the vendor to address said concerns and make any changes to language, etc. that are deemed necessary. That input from Board members is vital in crafting a FINAL version, which has yet to be done.
Q: How much weight will the survey actually carry since the school board ultimately makes the final call? When will it be mailed out and to how many residents?
A: The Board members have indicated that they want to get the information back from the community to ensure all sides of these issues are voiced prior to any decisions being made. Any changes are going to have far-reaching effects countywide, so it’s vital that community members have the ability to provide their input.
Public and parental involvement is a very high priority of the School Board and Superintendent, and this survey will serve as the vehicle for all parts of the Lee County community to provide their input. You would have to ask the Board members how much weight the results will bring as they weigh any options in the future.
As for the second part of this question, this will be done via hard-copy, online, telephone and possible in-person interviews with all segments of the Lee County community (including students.) The goal is to reach tens of thousands of individuals and for the District to receive a significant portion of the surveys back.
Q: How do you prevent people from filling the survey out twice, or multiple times?
A: The vendor has strategies identified in their proposal in order to monitor and address this specific subject.
Q: What do you say to people who say $112,000 is too much to spend?
A: First, it’s important to note that the total above is the MOST that will be paid to the vendor – there is the possibility that the final cost will be below that amount. The question you really should be asking is how much money will doing all of our due diligence save in the future. In other words, how many millions will be saved if the District either (1) maintains the current system or (2) changes the current system based on what is in the best interests of our students and Lee County; how much would be wasted if the incorrect decision is made for our students and community.
In order to make the best decision possible, you must have as much data, input and information as possible and this survey goes a long way in providing such.
All five Board members voted to award this RFP at the October 25, 2011 Action Meeting. The Board agreed that this information was vital to their decision making process. And please remember, this was a competitive RFP that was open to any and all qualified vendors.
The District awarded the contract to the best responsive proposer that has knowledge, skills and abilities to provide the identified services to the District.