Teachers Union Mulls Hiring “Community Organizer” to Undermine School Board

March 6, 2012
trancedmoogle /Free Photos

CASTLE ROCK, CO – The Douglas County chapter of the American Federation of Teachers is hiring a community organizer in an effort to disseminate survey results that critics contend are not scientifically accurate and part of a larger campaign against the Douglas County School Board.

According to meeting minutes from the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT) executive board meeting on January 11, 2012, the teachers’ union was planning on hiring a community organizer to organize parent groups and inform district citizens of a survey that shows a high level of dissatisfaction with the school district among district employees.

The President of DCFT, Brenda Smith, has not returned numerous calls seeking comment on the hiring of the community organizer.

“We know that we need to reach the 70% as well who don’t have kids in our schools,” the minutes note. “The survey results will go to parent groups. We are going to hire a community organizer who can help us organize this group.”

Douglas County’s school board has been ground zero for the education reform debate since the school board approved a voucher program in March 2011, a program that a Denver district judge has put on hold while the courts review the program’s legality.

News of the hiring of a community organizer is likely to only further heighten the pitched political battle between the union and school board supporters.

“They are taking over citizens’ access by flooding the board meetings,” said Mark Baisley, Douglas County GOP chairman, referencing union members’ repeated domination of the public comment period during school board meetings.

Baisley and others attempted to change that at the last board meeting, sending emails to gin up turnout among board supporters.

The latest salvo in the battle regards the district employee survey, which critics of the union feel is inaccurate and merely a political tool in the union’s campaign against the school board.

Pam Mazanec, a director with the school reform group Great Choice Douglas County, says “It’s clear that like most unions, DCFT is far more concerned with benefits to themselves, rather than the kids.”

The union-sponsored survey found that 86% of respondents, both teachers and other district employees, either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “I believe the district is moving in a positive direction.”

DCFT President Brenda Smith said of the low district employee satisfaction rates: “I feel it’s something we need to address.”

But the survey’s methodology and accuracy are being called into question.

In a notable departure from previous surveys of the attitudes of Douglas County school district employees, this year’s survey was not conducted by the district, but by the DCFT union, along with consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associaties, Inc (APA).  Rather than randomly select survey respondents, as is standard procedure in polling, the union handed out slips of paper through its building representatives to teachers with a unique code on it. The code was then entered on a website, where the survey was kept open for five weeks.

Critics have questioned the polling methodology, sampling and procedures, arguing that the results are more a reflection of union efforts to obtain a desired result than an accurate snapshot of employee sentiment.

Jennifer Kramer-Wine of APA, who helped conduct the survey, defended the survey’s results.

“Teachers are a key lynchpin in achieving results for students, which is why you ask teachers about the climate of the school and district,” said Kramer-Wine. “With a 53% response rate of teachers in Douglas County, APA stands by the fact that the answers from this sample safely represent the teachers in the district as a whole.”

The manner in which the disputed survey results were released has also drawn criticism.

School board member Kevin Larsen referenced the survey during the board’s last public meeting on February 21, complaining that the poll was leaked to the media “in a political manner.”

A January 17, 2012 article appeared in The Denver Post on the preliminary survey results. Later that day there was a public school board meeting where board members were briefed on the results for the first time, indicating the Post had the results before the board.

Then on the day of the February 21 school board meeting, the full results of the survey were posted on the DCFT’s website. Union opponents see the timing of the releases as intentional.

“It’s clear the unions approach to the issue and the district are rooted in politics and their concern about their own power, not what is best for the students,” said Ben DeGrow, the Senior Education Policy Analyst at the Independence Institute.

Whatever the true feelings of district employees, parents with children in Douglas County schools seem immensely satisfied.  A February 15, 2011 article in the Los Angeles Times noted that surveys show that 90% of district parents are satisfied with their children’s schools.

Regardless of competing surveys, the battle between supporters and opponents of the school board is certain to continue. The board meets publicly tonight at 7 pm in Castle Rock.

Comments made by visitors are not representative of The Colorado Observer staff.

4 Responses to Teachers Union Mulls Hiring “Community Organizer” to Undermine School Board

  1. Rick
    March 14, 2012 at 6:32 am

    The board and the superintendent know the majority of teachers are not satisfied with the direction our district is going. The real question is why are they cutting student spending year after year when we have well over $50 million in reserves.

  2. bernadette reynolds
    March 15, 2012 at 7:15 am

    The survey quoted in the Los Angeles Times does not contradict the survey results from the survey done by the Union. Parents indicated that they were satisfied with the Douglas County Schools’ performance. The DCSD is an excellent, high performing district that does not need vouchers so that parents may send children to private schools, charter schools, religious schools etc, just because they want to do that. I have approved of vouchers for use in school districts that have schools that are failing; the DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOLS ARE NOT FAILING.

  3. Kristen Burroughs
    March 16, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Vouchers allow ALL parents to send their children to the school or educational mechanism that best fits their child. In the current system, only the wealthiest parents are able to put their children into the school that best educates their children. Frankly, its a question of fairness and equity — fundamental values in our nation — that working and middle class parents can select the best education for their child, and not be forced to send their kids to the default, public schools.

    So what if default schools are “not failing.” That isn’t the issue, Bernadette. Public school may well be the best choice for some families — that’s wonderful! And everyone wants public, charter and private schools to be excellent.

    Having said that, many kids do not fit best in default, public schools. Though Douglas County schools may be good for some children, they’re not for these children.

    So why force their parents to send their kids to schools that simply don’t work for them? Why pretend that all kids can fit in public schools? Let those kids out of the default system, into tailored, unique learning environments where they’ll thrive, not merely muddle through.

    Vouchers correct this mismatch, and are not a critique of Douglas’ fine public schools that are well educated some kids, but not all.



  4. Pam
    April 3, 2012 at 8:53 am

    You state “Vouchers allow ALL parents to send their children to the school or educational mechanism that best fits their child. In the current system, only the wealthiest parents are able to put their children into the school that best educates their children.” In the system proposed by the DCSD BOE (and deemed illegal by the Court- which is being appealed) the program STILL only helps the wealthiest parents. The contributing schools all have tuition rates that are not covered by the proposed per pupil rate. Add to the fact that all but two were religious schools…hummmmm NOT public education.


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