On Tuesday evening, when votes have been counted and school boards learn whether their budgets have been approved and which board members have been elected, there will be, for some officials, one more thing to do: Read the exit polls.
In school districts that conduct them, the surveys are a chance for voters to tell school officials what they’re thinking, why they voted the way they did and, sometimes, to sound off on topics that have nothing to do with budgets, tax rates or propositions at all.
Iroquois Superintendent Douglas Scofield is a big believer in exit polls, calling them a valuable tool that offers insights into the pulse of the community.
“We do it every year because it’s one of the data factors that helps determine the district’s direction. The budget vote, whether it’s ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ is good, but it doesn’t give you the reasons why people voted the way they did,” he said.
Typically, the Iroquois survey starts by asking people how they voted, then goes on to a section where residents rate the importance of various items. This year, the district is adding a question about school resource officers and whether voters would support one with local dollars.
Other districts use the exit poll sporadically or not at all. In Holland, officials said they haven’t had an exit poll since 2000, but interim Superintendent Sylvia Root sees the merit in them.
“It’s nice to know what people are thinking,” she said.
In Springville, Superintendent Paul Connelly said the district conducted an exit poll the last two years but is skipping it this year.
“Sometimes they’re useful, sometimes they’re not. We don’t do it every year,” Connelly said.
Last year, following a budget that cut dozens of employees and saw significant program cuts, he said the negative feedback was intense and not all that helpful.
The Hamburg Central School District has held exit polls for the last three years. Michelle Darstein, community relations coordinator, said the questions are similar year to year but are adjusted to ask about topics of relevance. Last May, the district asked voters if they were aware of the state’s new tax cap law and how they felt about it.
Many residents pass on this opportunity to let their elected officials know what they’re thinking.
Last year, Darstein said, only a small percentage of Hamburg voters opted to fill out an exit poll – about 400 out of thousands of eligible voters.
Nevertheless, results are tabulated and, in districts that hold exit polls, the results are reviewed by both board members and administrators.