Cedarburg Moves Forward With Referendum After Biased Survey

As I’ve been saying for months, the big spenders have found a formula for passing a school referendum in conservative communities. They followed it in Kewaskum and are following it to the letter in Cedarburg and West Bend. Part of that formula is hiring School Perceptions to conduct a propaganda campaign in the form of a survey. MacIver got a peek behind the curtain in Cedarburg.

MADISON – Cedarburg School District officials are moving forward with a referendum asking voters to approve $59.8 million in new spending. However, local critics say the decision to go ahead with the referendum was based on the results of a biased survey that was designed to show overwhelming community support whether it existed or not.

Documents obtained by the MacIver News Service through an open records request show at least one Cedarburg School Boardmember and several community members were concerned the community survey the district commissioned to gauge interest in the huge spending spree could be more of a marketing tool to justify the costly proposal.

The district has been working with controversial consultant School Perceptions on the community survey. The Slinger-based firm has assisted hundreds of school districts seeking to pass large spending requests, including many in southeastern Wisconsin. 

Radio host Mark Belling has chronicled School Perceptions’ dubious business practices. With the firm’s help, “…school boards and superintendents are using public money to mislead their residents and pretending to conduct honest surveys,” Belling wrote in a Waukesha Freeman column earlier this year.

The survey, sent out in May, found that 60 percent of respondents would advise the Cedarburg School Board to pursue the referendum.

However, not all respondents were treated equally, according to the behind the scenes conversations. Staff and parents of CSD students were emailed links to an online version of the survey, while most local residents got a paper version in the mail. This was not done by accident.

“The plan all along was to email the survey to parents, teachers, and staff. All residents within our school district boundaries have or will receive the survey via the mail. Additional surveys are available for families if needed,” Bugnacki wrote on May 9 in an email responding to Cedarburg School Board member David Krier.

Krier was critical of this methodology. “We should consider whether this might skew the survey results,” he wrote.

On top of that, there was a lack of consistency on how the paper surveys were mailed out. Cedarburg town and city residents got their surveys through the US Postal Service’s bulk mail program. Those who lived out of town, but still in the district, however received a 6-by-9 inch envelope with the survey folded in half, addressed to “resident,” according to the Cedarburg News Graphic newspaper.

“(We are) realizing now that some did not receive or perceived this a junk mailer and threw it away,” Cedarburg School district communications coordinator Karen Egelhoff told the News Graphic.