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Extra Credit: What's so 'objectionable' about a teacher survey?

Extra Credit: What's so 'objectionable' about a teacher survey?

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The Madison School Board on Monday approved using an employee survey as part of its potential process for devising new employee work rules, although such a tool might be prohibited if the state's collective bargaining law is overturned, district lawyer Matt Bell said.

The School Board agreed not to issue the survey until the legal uncertainties related to last week's court ruling overturning key parts of the state's new collective bargaining law, known as Act 10, are resolved.

Prior to Friday's ruling, Superintendent Jane Belmore told the board the survey results would be collected and analyzed by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards at a cost of $1,000.

The survey would ask respondents whether they "strongly disagree," "disagree," "agree," "strongly agree" or have "no opinion" about questions such as "The hours I work are reasonable" and "Layoffs should be based on seniority."

Madison Teachers Inc. executive director John Matthews said the union is opposed to the district using an employee survey.

"Let's have people who teachers already trust providing that input," Matthews said.

MTI has surveyed its members prior to the biennial bargaining process in previous years, but it has not done so this year, Matthews said. Those survey results are not available for public review, though survey results obtained by the school district presumably would be under the state's open records law.

Prior to Act 10, districts could coordinate surveys with unions, but the practice was "virtually non-existent," WASB lawyer Bob Butler said. After Act 10, several school districts used surveys to craft employee handbooks.

Employers were banned from communicating directly with employees about wages, hours and working conditions when Wisconsin adopted collective bargaining laws for public workers in 1959, said Paul Secunda, a Marquette University Law School associate professor and expert on labor and education law.

"The thought is that if the employer can go to employees and find out what they wanted, and give them what they wanted, it would make (the employees) less likely to go to a union," Secunda said. "The law was set up to not provide that divide and conquer."

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