LAND O'LAKES — Maybe Pasco parents are simply satisfied with the public school system.
That's one possible explanation for the third straight year of dismal response to the district's annual parent survey.
"Sometimes people respond because they're involved, and sometimes people respond because they're mad," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said. "Apparently we don't have a lot of mad people. That's a good thing."
What's not so good is the district's inability to get more parents to offer their views through the questionnaire, which aims to provide both school and district leaders insights into what they do well and what needs to be done better.
Two years ago, after moving to an online version of the form, just 6.4 percent responded. Last year, the rate inched up to 11.8 percent — better, but still poor enough to warrant a cautionary note from the district's research department not to read too much into the data.
This year's response? Just 11.875 percent. (By contrast, nearly one-third of parents returned the survey in 2004.)
"We are still struggling with some of that," research and evaluation director Peggy Jones said. "We've got a lot of competition with other surveys, and for peoples' time."
Fiorentino and others sound reluctant to give up any avenue for parents to provide feedback.
"We put a premium on parent participation," School Board member Allen Altman said.
But if the parents aren't availing themselves of the option, Altman continued, perhaps the district might want to look for other ways to gather its information. With budgets tight and cuts looming, the all-school survey could prove an area for savings.
"They've got to do something different," said board member Marge Whaley, who suggested that responses were better when the survey was done on paper rather than on the Internet. "We'd all love to move into the electronic age. But obviously, we all aren't there yet."
Jones said the district already has started looking at other methods to get feedback. It ran a blog while drafting a five-year plan, for instance, and while not many people posted comments, several thousand stopped by to read it. Many parents and community members also attended town hall meetings on the plan, which calls for new ways to gather data.
"We're still exploring those," Jones said.
She did not dismiss the survey as a complete waste. Several schools had strong responses, after all, and their principals and advisory committees can use the results.
Cox Elementary led the way, with 57 percent of parents returning the form. Others with good responses included New River Elementary (38 percent), Shady Hills Elementary (34 percent) and Paul R. Smith Middle (27 percent).
Jones planned to look at what those successful schools did to boost returns, in hopes of replicating those efforts next year. She intended to have a report on what the survey indicated to the School Board before the end of the month.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.