2016-02-11 / News Briefs

Residents More Satisfied with Schools, City Services

By James Merolla

Newporters are much happier with the city’s public schools and hold out road improvements as one of their top priorities. Eighty-four percent of residents rate their home as an excellent or good place to live.

Those are among the salient opinions revealed through a 2015 community survey administered for the city by ETC Institute, a Kansas City marketing and research firm. The survey was conducted through a combination of mail, phone, and Internet and 1,226 responses were collected.

Some highlights of the results were reviewed with City Councilors at a presentation at Pell School on Wednesday, Feb. 3. ETC’s Jason Morado described several broad takeaways from the results and pointed out trends from a previous citizen survey that the company conducted here in 2006.

“We asked quite a few of the same questions so that we could compare,” said Morado. “Overall, the ratings are pretty similar to what they were then.”

ETC had expected 800 Newporters to respond, so returns of over 1,200 far exceeded expectations. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. “There’s always some margin of error, but overall the results are very, very accurate,” said Morado.

Among the findings, he said, “We found that the top priorities for the community are road improvements, public education, public services, and utilities.” As far as the 84 percent of Newporters with a positive perception of the city, he reported that the figure is a little higher than average, but “the thing that’s especially good is how few rated it as below average or poor [six percent].”

Fielding questions from Councilors Kathryn Leonard and Justin McLaughlin, Morado said that the survey results accurately represent the density of the city, with a higher number of responses coming from more populated neighborhoods.

Looking at maps displayed in a PowerPoint presentation, McLaughlin said, “I can look at this and say that the northern area of the city is probably dramatically underrepresented …. I get the distinct impression that the survey results were heavily influenced by older and more affluent residents.”

Morado responded that over- 65 residents may be slightly overrepresented, but expressed confidence that the opinions shared are representative of the city as a whole.

Some 93 percent rated Newport as an excellent or good place to visit. Some 55 percent said it was an excellent or good place to retire, while 49 percent said it was an excellent or good place to raise children.

McLaughlin pointed out, however, that those figures are lower than comparable national or regional ratings. “Our score is 30 points lower than … the U.S. norm, and 20 points lower than the norm in the Northeast. So it’s important to note that while [Newport] may be a great place to live, apparently people don’t believe that it’s a great place to raise children.”

With Leonard noting the middling numbers on Newport’s desirability as a retirement locale, McLaughlin added, “There are things that have been illuminated by the survey that we need to be looking at.”

Morado agreed the city rated low in those areas compared to other communities.

Newporters expressed satisfaction with most major services, including fire and police, overall safety, public works, and parks and recreation. Some six percent were more satisfied with the quality of the city’s beaches compared to 2006.

The largest changes from the previous survey related to public education. In 2006, just 23 percent of survey respondents were satisfied with the quality of educational facilities. Last year that number almost doubled to 45 percent, reflecting the new Pell Elementary School and improvements at Thompson Middle School.

Satisfaction with the quality of education in elementary schools was up 12 percent, and the middle school was up eight percent. “However, Newport is average or below average compared to other communities,” said Morado. “There is a lot of work still to be done.”

“I think we have made tremendous strides in the School Department,” said Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano. “Our investments in the schools are paying off.”

Some 39 percent of city residents said that public education should receive high priority over the next two years, followed by public services (37 percent), utilities (30 percent), and planning and zoning (22 percent). However, roads were at the top of the list, with 72 percent citing them as a primary concern.

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