Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Steamboat Springs School Board's decision Monday to order the release of performance surveys of district administrators was unnecessary and poorly timed, particularly given the larger issues facing our schools.
The dispute between the board and district administrators involves access to anonymous surveys filled out online by district staff. The surveys were intended to gauge the performance of the district's administrators, who include four building principals, two assistant principals and eight department directors. Superintendent Donna Howell promised staff that the administrators would be the only ones to see the survey results.
But School Board members demanded access to those surveys, which ultimately led to Monday's dispute.
During Monday's regularly scheduled School Board meeting, district administrators read a statement requesting the surveys remain private and that any board discussion about the surveys be held in public session. Board members, however, proceeded to meet in secret session and ultimately issued a directive for Howell to release the survey results to them.
School board members say they are permitted, by law, access to all district-related files and that they should know what district staff and teachers think about the performance of administrators. Such information, they say, could be valuable when determining whether to renew an administrator's contract. School Board President Denise Connelly added that the demand for the survey results was made in the spirit of working as a team to improve administrator performance.
Howell said the three-question surveys were intended to allow staff members to be candid about their direct supervisors, and for the administrators to then use those responses to reflect on and improve their job performance. She also said the promise of confidentiality was made so teachers would feel more comfortable filling out the surveys.
But once the School Board demanded access to those survey results, it put Howell in a lose-lose situation. She would either disobey the demands of the School Board - her employer - or go back on her promise to her employees.
Ultimately, the situation never should have reached Monday's boiling point. Access to the survey results is a battle that could have and should have been avoided. Another staff survey is scheduled for next month. The School Board could have allowed its superintendent to keep her promise to her employees and at the same time made it clear that future survey results would be viewed by board members.
After all, the school district has more important things to worry about.
Two months ago, Steamboat Springs School District voters approved nearly $30 million in school construction projects and $600,000 a year to help attract and retain the best teachers.
The school district faces a tight timeline to construct a new Soda Creek Elementary School and renovate and expand Strawberry Park Elementary School. Add to that the monumental task of relocating 350 elementary school children to modular classrooms for at least a year and a half. It's a process that will necessitate good planning and better communication, particularly with district parents and staff.
And there's more. The district likely will support a campaign this year or next asking voters to renew the city's half-cent sales tax for education. The tax provides more than $2 million a year for programs and projects the district's couldn't otherwise afford.
So we can't help but view Monday's dispute as a step in the wrong direction. The School Board should have kept the greater good of the district and its objectives in mind.