School board rips union staff survey

Members question agency's credibility, rate of response

Posted 4/23/15

Douglas County School Board members lambasted the recent staff survey funded by the teachers' union, calling it an attack on staff, pointing out its low response rate and questioning the objectivity of the agency that conducted it.

The survey …

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School board rips union staff survey

Members question agency's credibility, rate of response

Posted

Douglas County School Board members lambasted the recent staff survey funded by the teachers' union, calling it an attack on staff, pointing out its low response rate and questioning the objectivity of the agency that conducted it.

The survey showed low morale and dissatisfaction with recent education reforms and policies in the Douglas County School District, among other findings.

The union paid Strategies 360, which describes its purpose as helping to “create the environment for business and public policy success,” to do the survey. The national company offers its clients research, grassroots advocacy, marketing and other services. Its Denver office is led by Tyler Chafee, formerly political director for the Colorado AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is the umbrella organization for U.S. unions, including the Douglas County Federation teachers' union.

“This ain't Gallup,” board member Craig Richardson said during the board's April 21 meeting. “This is not the Pew survey. This is an organization that does advocacy polling, so I think that is a relevant fact, and one that goes to the weight and credibility and reliability of the data they collect.”

Strategies 360's report said the number of respondents “is not necessarily statistically representative of the full population of teachers and staff in DCSD,” but that “a sample size of 800 is robust enough to make well-informed assessments about attitudes across the district.”

About 800 of 5,000 employees invited to take the anonymous survey did so — a response rate of about 16 percent.

School board president Kevin Larsen said the response rate calls the findings into question.

“I would commend those who conducted the survey for stating they're not able to draw complete conclusions and even get an accurate margin of error, because to do so would be statistical malpractice,” he said.

The Douglas County Federation paid $3,000 to conduct the survey because union leaders said the district had failed to do its own. Despite frequent requests from community members, the once-annual district survey hasn't been conducted since 2012; then, DCSD discounted the 6 percent response rate as too small to be statistically valid.

“We have a failed union leadership that is desperately trying to get itself back into the pockets of teachers,” said Doug Benevento, school board vice president. “They're not attacking us. They're attacking the teachers, parents and students of the district who had so roundly rejected them through (multiple) elections.

“As this survey demonstrates, there is a small group of dissatisfied union leaders who are attacking our staff. I hope you will join us in pushing back on them as they continue to do so, because that's the only way they think they can get power back.”

A DCSD teacher stood during the meeting to ask the board to conduct its own survey, saying she spoke on behalf of the teachers' union members.

“I'm here to ask that you please conduct an anonymous, third-party employee climate and culture survey,” said Michelle Grissom. “You have made it perfectly clear you do not value our opinion, so we ask that you conduct your own survey. We've been asking for years.”

Grissom categorized the findings in the teachers' union survey as “dismal.”

“Did you know that less than 10 percent of the respondents believe the reforms you have made have resulted in increased learning for students?” she said. “It's important you conduct your own confidential survey of employees before the end of the school year.”

Larsen said he is interested in hearing “from a representative sampling of teachers.”

He believes the state's TELL — Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning — survey will provide good feedback. Fifty-one percent of teachers participated in the 2015 TELL Colorado survey, and results will be available in late May.

“I think in a few weeks, time will indeed tell,” Larsen said.

While the TELL survey's website says its main intent is to provide data for school and district improvements, and to inform state-level policy, the state survey's questions don't address district-level issues. 

Board member Meghann Silverthorn issued a plea for cooperation.

“It is my opinion attacks are not the way to move the district forward,” she said. “How can we all work together as a community?”

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