With the ability to do almost limitless online surveys with almost no monetary investment, local government agencies have used these surveys on lots of different topics in recent years, with varying success.
In the last five years or so, city-run surveys have included what qualities citizens wanted to see in a new city manager, before Patrick Roberts was promoted, and what businesses citizens wanted to see built at the new Obici Place commercial development.
More recently, the school division has upped its surveying game with a survey about the qualities citizens want to see in a new superintendent to replace the retiring Dr. Deran Whitney. The survey got about 750 responses, but to some, that was a dismaying result, as there are about 14,500 sets of parents in Suffolk Public Schools — and even more staff members, volunteers and other community stakeholders.
Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck, a member of the School Board, was right to point this out last week when the board discussed another survey, this time on whether the school division should start school before Labor Day and, if so, by how much.
In their last General Assembly session, lawmakers rightly repealed a law that mandated schools in Virginia not start until after Labor Day, unless they applied for a waiver. The story goes that this law was originally on the books to cater to the tourism industry, which had a vested interest in getting cheap, teenage labor for the entire summer and having families available for one last vacation before the season ended.
Now that school divisions are able to start before Labor Day, many around the state are weighing doing so.
We’re glad to see Suffolk Public Schools doing a survey on this issue, but — as Dr. Brooks-Buck noted — the survey results should be only one piece of the puzzle, not a determining factor. In the unlikely event that the survey rakes in tens of thousands of responses, perhaps it can be taken more seriously.
Assuming that doesn’t happen, though, board members should look more closely at what they feel is right for Suffolk Public Schools to do, as well as what neighboring divisions do. For scheduling and childcare reasons, it’s important to have all local divisions mostly on the same schedule.
We predict the survey will receive more responses than the superintendent one — after all, people tend to care more about things that directly affect them. We also predict it will swing heavily in favor of keeping a post-Labor Day start — it’s almost entrenched in our culture here in Hampton Roads.