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.