Staff survey raises 'major concerns' about Glen Ellyn Dist. 41 board
The Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board received notably low marks in a recent survey of staff members, some of whom say they're embarrassed by a lack of civility at board meetings.
The results of the anonymous survey revealed Monday reflect a "major concern" about employee satisfaction with the board, said Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, the firm that conducted the survey.
The survey asked staff members to rate whether the board presents a positive image to the community on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning "strongly disagree" and 5 meaning "strongly agree." There was no 3 for "neutral."
When the survey was conducted about two years ago, staff members rated the board an average of 3.95. This year the staff rated the board an average of 2.41, with only 32 percent of respondents saying they agree or strongly agree that the board presents a positive image.
"It's probably one of the biggest drops I've ever seen," Foster said.
Board member Dean Elger indirectly placed the blame on Kurt Buchholz and Stephanie Clark, two allies who took their seats last spring. Buchholz acknowledged his decisions may be unpopular among the staff but portrayed other board members as rubber stamps for the administration.
"There's only one difference between last year and this year, and that's we had an election," Elger said.
Some staff members directly criticized Buchholz and Clark in the survey, while others said board meetings have taken a "confrontational" tone and they're uncomfortable voicing opinions -- "good or bad" -- for fear of backlash.
Foster cautioned that anonymous comments are "tricky to use" and "very subjective."
"The message from the survey comments, in addition to that about the board, are direct: Dysfunctional, embarrassing, unprofessional board members with hidden agendas," said board President Erica Nelson, who called on members to complete a governance evaluation by the state association of school boards.
"This board is not performing its duty to govern," she said.
Of the 312 staff members who responded to the survey, 198 were teachers. Elger initially wanted to read the comments into the official record of Monday's board meeting but later urged residents to view them and the rest of the results on the district's website, D41.org.
"This is the only thing we should be working on," Elger said. "There isn't another thing this board should work on until we get past this, so that we can regain some confidence from this community."
Buchholz, whose wife is a teacher in the district, said staff responses include administrators who may be unhappy after he said late last fall that they should begin contributing to their own pensions. The district has been paying both its share and the administrators' share.
"At this level, this board finally has some people that are not rubber stamping things and that may become uncomfortable to people," Buchholz said. "Dean, when you're trying to protect that taxpayer, and you're going to possibly take away someone's pension payment that you don't think is fair as a board member because you represent taxpayers, do you think that those people are going to be happy with me? No."
Buchholz said he didn't think the survey results were "a disaster" and that he and Clark are asking "for tough decisions to be made."
"They're not comfortable decisions at all," he said. "Does it make me feel happy? Am I glad? Am I giddy about it? No. But I feel and ran so those things could be answered."
Clark said parents should have been asked to grade more statements about the board. They scored one, and that rating was "statistically insignificant" from the last survey.
Elger countered that the "community is not just the parents."
"About 20 some percent of our staff lives in the community. They elect us," he said. "There's the parents in the community, but there's also about 70 percent of the people who elect us who aren't the parents that aren't even on this survey."
Foster said Superintendent Paul Gordon's ratings could be pulled down by those of the board, but his marks are "still pretty positive."
"The superintendent is doing what it takes to make our district successful" got an average score of 3.79, down from 4.19 on the 1-5 scale.
Employees' overall satisfaction with how the district uses its money and how it meets the needs of its students improved, the survey showed, among other areas.
"We have improvement across the board from our parents and our staff at each of the school son different topics," Gordon said.