A majority of Metro school support personnel say Director of Schools Jesse Register’s recent decision to unilaterally overhaul the district’s support staff handbook “negatively impacted” morale, according to a new University of Tennessee poll released Tuesday.
More telling of a union-superintendent rift, support staff personnel have little faith in Register himself: 61 percent of those polled said Register has had a “major negative” effect on morale since becoming director of schools in 2009. Another 51 percent of surveyed support staff said they don’t feel Register values their work.
The poll, a random sample of 400 of the district’s 2,400 support staff members, including food service workers, secretaries and bookkeepers, comes courtesy of the Center for Applied Research and Evaluation at The University of Tennessee. The Service Employees Union Local 205, a frequent critic of Register in the two years since he outsourced custodians in 2010, released the survey to seemingly build its case that the superintendent is out of touch with Metro school employees.
The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In January, SEIU filed a complaint over Register’s decision to do away with the school district’s 12-year-old “memoranda of understanding” policy in dealing with the SEIU, which represents custodians and groundskeepers, and the United Steelworkers, comprised of school bus drivers.
Union leaders have called the MOU agreement a “meet and confer” policy. But Register scrapped the nonbinding statute by adopting a new support staff handbook, a move the district’s central office has claimed is authorized. Union representatives contend he overreached his power.
School board chair Gracie Porter rejected SEIU’s claims in a letter two weeks ago.
According to the poll results, 52.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as union members. Three-fourths, 74 percent, said they were aware of Register’s handbook changes.
Of the percentage that were aware of the changes, nearly 70 percent disagreed with policy overhaul, and 80 percent said the changes “negatively impacted” support staff morale. Nearly half, 48.3 percent, said Register’s move has already had a “major negative impact.”
In a statement, Metro school officials downplayed poll results, labeling the survey a “push poll,” a questionnaire that uses leading questions to steer particular responses.
“It is disappointing to see this political tactic used against our schools,” MNPS spokeswoman Meredith Libbey said. School officials also questioned the poll’s methodology, suggesting the survey over-sampled union members.
According to MNPS, 34 percent of eligible employees are SEIU members. More than half of the UT poll respondents identified themselves as union members.
“We have asked the UT Center for Applied Research for the results of this survey so we can analyze them, but they have refused our request,” Libbey said.
“We are concerned about misinformation spread by political operatives who have targeted our district and Jesse Register,” she added.
The relationship between Register and SEIU eroded further last week after the union filed a second complaint against Register, this time on his financial disclosures. The complaint followed a Tennessean story that found the superintendent left blanks on the section of the disclosure where he was to detail gifts and trips.