At the Feb. 27 Gibraltar School Board meeting, community members kept up the pressure the school board has felt the past few meetings. While the board did discuss staff morale and a past survey, some parents are still dissatisfied with the results.
During the opening public comment section, board president Mark Weborg strayed from the open meeting norm in responding directly to many of the concerns brought forth, some of which were common threads through the past several board meetings.
“If you have spoken at previous meetings and you’re going to speak at this meeting, we’ve already heard that and we already know that,” said Weborg.
But Brett Reetz, who has spoken up on several topics including staff morale at previous board meetings, rejected the censorship on repeated ideas.
“Your comment about not repeating myself, I don’t think it’s appropriate because some of the board members weren’t here for the meetings,” said Reetz. Weborg was not at the previous school board meeting on Feb. 13. “There is a collective and comprehensive complaint to the board not being responsive to teachers’ needs.”
Reetz added that a teacher spoke up in January about her fear of being fired and he has heard that others are looking for new jobs.
“I don’t know where this fear of being fired comes from because it’s not in our vocabulary,” said Weborg. “We’ve never discussed it so I don’t know where it comes from…We don’t want to lose any teachers. That’s why we’re looking to find out if there’s a problem. Then let’s hear it. We can’t deal with that if we don’t know why there is a morale problem.”
The meeting did include a presentation from the District Leadership Team, a group of school staff tasked with providing solutions to problems outlined in a staff survey last spring.
The team identified three main concerns from staff: how the administration rolls out new initiatives, relationships with coworkers, and having fun at work. They then went ahead and planned activities for the latter two problems, including a bowling trip and bringing back an old potluck. The team is also working with the Wellness Policy Committee to offer 15-minute massages to staff during the day.
While the school board noted that this was just the beginning of the work to be done by the leadership team, Reetz and other parents found the attempts superficial and ineffective.
“I hope you recognize that it’s going to take more than a faculty glee club,” said Reetz. “It’s going to take substantive change.”
“I do feel happy with what this committee has done,” said Justin Burress, 6th grade teacher at Gibraltar and member of the leadership team. “Sometimes you just need to do those things. Some of those little things make big things happen.”
The leadership committee did not make any changes regarding how the administration rolls out initiatives, but expects to in the future.
Although stripped of their collective bargaining rights, the teachers in the Gibraltar Education Association have read the same letter at the past two board meetings, outlining their strength in numbers, if not in rights.
“We are a strong union,” said music teacher Charlie Eckhardt on Feb. 27 and English teacher Lauren Bremer on Feb. 13 while all the teachers in the audience stood in support during the comments. “Although we do not have the legal ability to negotiate salary and benefits, we do have power in our numbers and professional experience and a voice. Together we stand in support of what we believe is just and right for our school community and our students.”
Some parents have set up online channels for teachers to voice their concerns anonymously, which parents will then bring to the board.
But the school board did meet some of the demands of the community. Weborg said the absent business audit will be provided to the public during the board’s work sessions this spring, with a hope to bring in the auditing firm to a school board meeting to discuss the results.
The board then made a motion to create a new committee to explore another survey of staff morale.
“We should start [with] a staff survey and I’d like to see this go to committee so we can have a thorough discussion about all of the options and get a recommendation because there are a variety of ways to go down that road,” said board member Mike Peot.
“What I don’t want to do is buy a canned survey that seemed to work someplace else,” said board member Fred Anderson.
The new committee will be made up of board members Peot, Lynn Herman and Wendy Minten, the administration, and community members Reetz and Lynn Weddig. They will review different survey methods and companies to determine which would best serve the district, should they choose to take a staff survey.