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Board gives morale survey bids go-ahead

West Fargo teachers packed a Community High School classroom Monday, expressing to the School Board their concern over what they say is increasingly low employee morale districtwide.

West Fargo teachers packed a Community High School classroom Monday, expressing to the School Board their concern over what they say is increasingly low employee morale districtwide.

Both teachers and district leaders agree that a survey evaluating employee satisfaction will objectively show the morale problems.

The board unanimously approved authorizing the administration to advertise bids for a work climate survey.

But it's not enough, the West Fargo Education Association said.

Union leaders urged the district to include teachers in the survey-selection process and insisted they approve a specific survey - "The Great Places to Work Trust Index" - citing that it will best assess reasons behind low morale.

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"The problem is we have lost our trust and confidence, and lost our voice," said Joan Connor, a Cheney Middle School teacher and member of the teacher's union board.

In a prepared statement, Connor told the School Board about WFEA's grievances, specifically the lack of involvement they've had in the survey-selection process.

"The decision-making and management styles of the superintendent and assistant superintendent relating to the survey process are symptomatic of other decisions made during the past two years that involved major curriculum changes," the union's statement said, citing the discontinuation of the Reading Recovery program and start of block scheduling as changes that have "led to low morale."

Superintendent Dana Diesel Wallace explained she stopped discussing survey options with WFEA when she realized the costs would exceed $25,000, which requires School Board approval.

The two surveys the district has discussed are "The Great Places to Work Trust Index," which is estimated to cost $42,000, and the Gallup Q12 Survey, estimated to cost $30,000.

"They're very different surveys," Connor said, adding the latter would not address the root of teachers' problems. "We don't think it's really measuring what morale is."

Legally, the School Board must approve the lowest, most responsible bidder. That means, Diesel Wallace said, the $12,000 difference in price is an issue. But, she added, the district is seeking legal counsel to see what its options are.

"Our hands may be tied," Board President Tom Gentzkow told the crowd. "(But) we're committed to this process. Over the years, we've heard there's some dissention in the staff. But to pinpoint it ... it's kind of a tough task."

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Business Manager Joe Sykora said it will take at least a month to receive bids.

Gentzkow added the School Board hopes that, after approving a bid, the district will be able to distribute the survey by the first of the year with results expected, at the soonest, 90 days later.

No matter which survey is chosen, the agency handling the survey will also create building-specialized action plans to address issues.

Teachers and administrators agree a survey will show the true climate.

"We need to get more at the heart of the issue - morale, trust, general job satisfaction," Connor said. "The survey is the beginning."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515

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