How do people feel about the Manatee School District? Climate surveys may be coming

In 2015, former Superintendent Diana Greene commissioned two anonymous surveys to gauge the views of employees and Manatee County residents, asking questions about the strength of local education, finances and morale in the school district.

“The results from these surveys will be used as an important baseline to compare to future climate surveys, so we thank everyone who took the time to participate and we hope sharing these results will be meaningful to you,” Greene said in an email to district staff on Sept. 16, 2015.

More than three-and-a-half years have passed since the original survey concluded, a new superintendent is at the helm and three school board members have been replaced. The time for a new survey is approaching, according to at least one member of the Citizens’ Financial Oversight Committee.

While it was scheduled to discuss the survey and a possible resurgence, the 16-member committee delayed its conversation on Tuesday afternoon, citing a busy agenda. The committee has no authority to issue a survey, but it could recommend that one be distributed.

The committee is tasked with oversight of money collected through a one-mill increase on property taxes, which voters approved last year. The tax increase was largely motivated by a need to increase district salaries, attract new employees and retain existing staff, and the committee is also charged with measuring results.

Committee member Garin Hoover sees the climate survey as a way to measure staff morale and the possible changes effected by Manatee’s increased salaries. And while different surveys are currently ongoing or planned, Hoover felt it was important to issue the same climate survey from 2015, allowing for a direct comparison of changes in the school district.

“That way you can compare apples to apples,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.

But the district superintendent, Cynthia Saunders, said she plans to hire a director of strategic planning, and then to create a five-year strategic plan with input from the district and community — likely through a survey.

“I don’t know that it would be appropriate or make sense to do something separate from that at this time,” she said.

In 2015, more than 3,600 people completed the survey for district staff, and exactly one-half of respondents were instructional staff, which often includes teachers, librarians and counselors. Respondents included bus drivers, cafeteria workers and maintenance personnel, among others.

The most stark disagreement was in response to salary questions: more than 60 percent of employees felt they were not paid fairly or competitively when compared to other regions. When asked if Manatee was efficiently spending tax dollars, about 49 percent of employees said the district was moving in a positive direction.

Another survey gauged the opinion of about 500 randomly selected voters in Manatee County. And while many were unhappy with the school district’s trajectory, a vast majority valued its importance.

In response to Hoover’s call for a redo of the 2015 survey, school board member Scott Hopes said he supported the idea. He also pointed to an ongoing survey released to district employees on Monday, created by a University of South Florida doctoral student to measure, in part, the school district’s climate.

Board member Charlie Kennedy said he backed the idea, so long as the price is reasonable. The other three board members could not be reached for comment.

“I think we as board members have a pretty good pulse on what’s going on, as far as the way our employees are feeling, because we hear from people a lot,” Kennedy said. “But it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

Related stories from Bradenton Herald