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School Board tables vote on district-wide survey

In a memo presented to the West Fargo School Board during their regular meeting held on January 26, Dana Diesel Wallace and Joe Sykora submitted a recommendation to award the bid for a district-wide employee engagement survey to The Village Family Service Center. The recommendation came with the stipulation that the total cost of administering the survey would not exceed the $25,000 limit as set forth by school board bid policies.

Vernon Research came in as the lowest bidder, at $19,700 with an additional $5,200 in follow-up costs. However, they did not provide records showing their return rate for survey participation, whereas The Village reported an 87 percent return rate. Of the four bids being considered, only one survey met all the criteria for West Fargo's purposes. However, its total cost came in at $32,878, exceeding the board's cut-off figure by almost $8,000. The Village's survey would cost $16,800 with an additional cost ranging anywhere from $800 to $2,400 to tabulate and assess results.

In a series of meetings held with representatives of the West Fargo Education Association, it was established that the consensus among the teachers was that The Village Family Service Center's survey would be a good choice, and that they would be in favor of accepting the Village's bid. However, during Monday night's meeting, the board voted to table the recommendation until they could be provided with more information about how the survey process would be conducted.

Board member Duane Hanson voiced his concerns about signing a contract without seeing the actual questions first. Other board members were concerned about whether the questions would pertain to West Fargo's specific needs, and if there would be any way to enter into some kind of agreement with the firm to ensure that the district wouldn't be held liable if the survey results were inconclusive or unreliable due to low participation.

"We'd like someone from The Village to come speak to the board to get an idea of what they'll provide," Ben Koppelman said.

Board members agreed that a return rate of 40 percent wouldn't give an accurate picture. WFEA president Joan Baltezore reassured the board that WFEA spokesmen would do everything they could to encourage teachers to take part in the survey.

"I want participation from the staff," Board president Tom Gentzkow said, reaffirming his statement later by saying he would like an 85 to 90 percent participation level.

Baltezore and WFEA spokesperson Joan Connor were present at the board meeting to lend input and answer board questions. While researching the companies submitting bids, Baltezore and Connor said they requested sample questions from each of the companies. They felt the types of questions The Village would provide fit West Fargo School District's needs, addressing employee engagement, communication, and morale issues.

"We were very impressed with the level of professionalism from the people we met with [from The Village staff]," Baltezore said.

"They really want to tailor to our needs," Connor added.

The board will address the issue again at the next board meeting on February 9.

In other action, the board approved an administrative staff request to begin the search for a principal to be hired for the new kindergarten center being built in Osgood; adopted revisions to the district's policy handling suspensions and expulsions of students; approved an extended leave of absence for a Spanish teacher at the Sheyenne Ninth Grade Center; and reviewed and approved the pledged assets to cover the district's bank deposits.

Immediately following the meeting, board members signed a letter of intent supporting House Bill 1494, which was scheduled to go to a House Committee Hearing at 2 p.m. on January 27. If passed, the bill will provide supplemental grant money for North Dakota school districts with enrollments over 6,000, with a seven percent or higher enrollment increase between the 2007-08 school year to the 2008-09 school year.

The bill, which could have a major impact on the West Fargo School District's financial picture, was introduced on January 19, by Rep. Alon Wieland from District 13 (R), and co-sponsored by Rep. Kim Koppelman and Sen. Judy Lee from District 13 (R) along with Sen. Gary Lee from District 22 (R), and Rep. Randy Boehning from District 27 (R).

Upcoming committee meetings include: Planning and Development on January 28, February 7, and February 18; Budget Committee meeting on February 11. All committee meetings begin at 7 a.m. in the Leidel Education Center Boardroom.

The next regular school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on February 9, also at the Leidal Education Center. The meeting will be preceded by a Committee of the Whole meeting beginning at 5:30 p.m.