Category Archives: Education

Harvard Welcomes Traitor

Disgusting behavior from Harvard.

Ex-acting CIA director Michael Morell has resigned from his post at Harvard over its hiring of Chelsea Manning.

Announcing his resignation as a senior fellow, Mr Morell said he could not be part of an institution “that honours a convicted felon and leaker of classified information”.

Harvard later withdrew Ms Manning’s invitation as a visiting fellow, but said she remained welcome as a speaker.

She was convicted of espionage in 2013 after leaking secret documents.

Manning is a traitor and should be treated as such.

Bill Would Slightly Reform Referendum Process

These seem like some pretty small and reasonable reforms. They also don’t seem like they’ll matter much one way or the other.

Wisconsin school districts will have to adjust to new restrictions on when they can hold referenda votes, under a provision added to the state budget earlier this week.

The change restricts votes on requests by schools to exceed revenue limits or issue bonds to regularly scheduled elections or the 2nd Tuesday of November in non-election years, and also limits districts to holding two votes in a single year.

Sleaze and corruption on the West Bend School Board

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Several weeks ago, I raised serious concerns regarding the capricious, unethical and arguably illegal process by which the West Bend School Board created, and then appointed, two high school principals. After receiving 444 pages of public documents from the school district, those concerns have been confirmed and heightened.

As a brief background, West Bend had two high schools with one principal. The district was working on hiring that principal when, in a matter of days and with virtually no public input, the school board split the administration into two principals — one for each high school. Then the school board appointed two existing district employees to those positions without posting the jobs, accepting applications, conducting interviews or engaging in anything that resembles a typical hiring process. The entire fiasco was government at its worst.

Now we get a look at the new principals the school board appointed, and there are some alarming red flags. Ralph Schlass was appointed principal for West High School. Schlass has been an administrator in the district since 1999 and has served in various roles — most recently as an assistant principal for West. His tenure and performance evaluations indicate that until recently, Schlass was a relatively pedestrian employee going about his job. Then, in 2015, his performance began to deteriorate.

In December 2015, Schlass was accused of threatening and intimidating teachers regarding a petition being circulated. He was accused of telling a group of teachers something akin to, “I am the person who does your performance evaluations. If I find your name on that petition, I won’t be happy. … I am telling you, don’t sign it.”

Schlass denied making that statement, but a statement to that effect was corroborated by several staff members. Schlass was suspended three days without pay in January 2016 and told to refrain from actions that “engages staff in a threatening or intimidating manner.”

In July 2016, Schlass was put on a one year Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). A PIP is a plan given to an employee who is underperforming. It is usually meant as a “shape up or ship out” employee performance tool. The PIP indicated that, among other things, Schlass, “has inconsistently demonstrate(ed) leadership for student learning,” “failed to consistently support staff development” and “failed to follow policies, rules, regulations and routines.”

Schlass was combative through the year and accused the process of being “discriminatory, arbitrary, and capricious.” After March, he stopped completing the documentation required by the PIP. At the end of June, the recommended outcome for Schlass after the PIP was to “remain on a Performance Improvement Plan.”

Three weeks after that recommendation, Schlass was promoted by the West Bend School Board to be the principal of West Bend West High School.

The new principal of West Bend East High School is Darci Vanadestine. Vanadestine joined the district as an assistant principal in 2014 and was promoted to director of teaching and learning a year later. Unlike Schlass, Vanadestine’s employment history is impeccable and reflects career of progressive growth and advancement.

Vanadestine is so well regarded that in June she applied to be the high school principal — when there was to be just one. After a rigorous interview process, indications were good for Vanadestine. On July 14, she was informed that the district was checking final references and the superintendent would follow up the following week. On July 20, Vanadestine found out “through a posting” that the school board was going to meet that evening to “hear public comments on the reconfiguration of the HS configuration.” Several hours later, the school board voted to have two principals instead of one and, as a consequence, eliminated Vanadestine’s job.

The next morning, July 21, Vanadestine was told by the superintendent that he recommended her for the job to be principal of both high schools on July 18. The superintendent then told Vanadestine that the board had split the position into two principals and instructed them to give her one of the jobs. On July 23, Schlass and Vanadestine were introduced as the new principals and their contracts were ratified Aug. 14.

Vanadestine writes, “This is not the job I originally applied for and knowing that my current job was eliminated due to the decision to have two principals I struggled greatly with the poor ethics and lack of process with the appointment.” Indeed. Any ethical person would.

Although it was necessary, the point of this narrative is not to dwell in the employment histories of either Schlass or Vanadestine. The point is that through their unscrupulous and erratic actions, the West Bend School Board has chosen to promote one male employee who had been suspended and flagged for poor performance and deprive a female employee of the larger job for which she was eminently qualified and had been recommended. Such actions are not only an incredible disservice to the children of the district who deserve the best possible leadership, but they erode employee morale, sow distrust with the citizens and expose the taxpayers to considerable legal liability.

School Board President Tiffany Larson did not respond to repeated requests to comment on the board’s actions.

In an effort to “show my work,” here are a few of the public documents that were mentioned in this column:

Here’s the letter where Schlass was suspended.

Whenever you do an open record’s request like this, the person involved is informed and allowed to include any commentary. Here is Schlass’ letter that he included. I would note that while he blames the former superintendent, he was suspended under the former superintendent, but put on a PIP under the current one.

Here is Sclass’ PIP conclusion.

Here is Schlass’ official reflection about his performance plan.

Just like Schlass, VanAdestine included a note with her released documents. Here is Page One and Page Two.


Finally, I want to emphasize again what I said in the column. It isn’t really about Schlass or VanAdestine. They are both just district employees doing their work to the best of their abilities, I’m sure. But diving into their employment histories was necessary to show why the school board’s actions were so egregious. This new majority on the school board that ran on a platform of “transparency” and “running the district like a business” is running it like Enron. I truly hope that the board members reassess their actions and live up to the rhetoric they used to get elected.

 

New Property For Sale Next to West Bend High Schools

Well, this is curious. A couple of weeks ago the West Bend School District started down the process to a referendum(s). They want to look at Jackson Elementary School, which has been brought up as an issue in the past, but then they also threw in a look at the High Schools, which hasn’t. Here’s the charter:

As part of the 17-18 Strategic Plan, the district has committed to evaluating the district’s options to address an aging Jackson Elementary School and the East/West High School facility. To that end, the district has hired Bray Architects to assist in the process.

Three days ago, a large parcel of land that borders the high schools went on the market. Here it is:

property

Long time Benders might remember that this exact property was for sale once before. Several years ago the West Bend School District was asking the voters to pass a huge school referendum. In fact, it was the largest referendum in Wisconsin at the time. As part of that referendum, the district wanted to buy this parcel and build a new middle school on it. That referendum failed and this property hasn’t been for sale since. Until now…

Timing is everything, isn’t it?

West Allis-West Milwaukee Ignores Voters and Jacks Up Taxes

What a slap in the face to the taxpayers.

Four months after rejecting a $12.5 million increase in spending for operations, residents in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District will see their taxes rise anyway after the district’s requests for $15.8 million in state loans were approved Wednesday.

The state’s three-member Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to approve the loans: $12.8 million to pay for energy efficiency improvements and an additional $3 million for capital projects.

The loans will nearly double the debt of the suburban Milwaukee County district, which has been struggling to regain its financial footing after blowing through $17.5 million in reserves in recent years before posting a $2.1 million deficit in 2016.

RELATED: West Allis school district turns to taxpayers after blowing through $17.5 million in reserves

Andy Chromy, director of finance and operations for the district, defended the School Board’s decision to seek the loans after residents rejected extra spending in a referendum.

“We have 17 schools that are at least 46 years old and we are not able to replace all of them,” Chromy said. “So, this is an avenue to help us at least try to keep the schools we have in the best condition we can.”

To Andy Chromy… that may be true, but you already made that case to the voters and they said “no.” It’s unconscionable to just ram a tax increase through a loophole after the voters said no.

I would also add that there are many, many buildings still in very good use that are older than 46 years old (*cough* capitol building; Lambeau Field; hundreds of churches; etc. *cough*). The only reason they would need to be replaced is with gross mismanagement of their upkeep. Obviously, the voters of that district came to the same conclusion.

UWO Foundation Goes Bankrupt

Ummmm

The embattled UW-Oshkosh Foundation filed for bankruptcy Thursday, with leaders saying their hand was forced by a “flip flop and ill-advised political gamesmanship” from University of Wisconsin System officials who backed out of a potential settlement with the foundation’s creditors.

The System faced pressure from state lawmakers not to use taxpayer money to settle the private nonprofit’s debts — which stem from real estate projects that UW officials say were improperly financed with public money and credit — when the discussions came to light earlier this year.

In a blistering news release Thursday, leaders of the foundation, which oversees fundraising for UW-Oshkosh, said those talks had produced “a fair and reasonable settlement” agreement.

But, they said, the System’s Board of Regents bowed to political pressure and withdrew its support for the settlement, leading to the federal bankruptcy filing.

Remember that this came about because the former Chancellor illegally used taxpayer funds to back risky private building projects of the foundation. Oh, and meanwhile, the foundation bought the Chancellor’s house for roughly $120,000 more than it was worth as he moved on (*cough* kickback *cough*).

The UWO Foundation got caught dealing dirty with its hand in the taxpayers’ cookie jar. They deserve to go bankrupt. Unfortunately, it is their creditors who are left holding the bag.

West Bend School Board earns detention

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

You can see the signs all around. The Wisconsin State Fair is in full swing. The first Packers preseason game is this week. You can’t drive three blocks without finding the stand full of delicious sweet corn for sale. The signs are undeniable. Summer is coming to an end, and that means that school will be back in session in a few short weeks. But while the kids have been enjoying their summer, the West Bend School Board has been very busy running roughshod over any semblance of good governance.

In less than a week, the West Bend School Board abandoned the search for a new principal for the West Bend High Schools, restructured the administration into two high school principals and appointed two people to be those principals. Let’s look at the timeline.

Sometime late in the day on July 19, the School Board gave notice of a special meeting to happen the next day at 5 p.m. Special meetings are rare and usually only called for emergencies, but the opaque agenda referenced “review and consideration of high school administrative assignments.”

At the meeting on the 20th, two board members were absent and the attendance was sparse. Board President Tiffany Larson read a lengthy prepared statement saying that they wanted to create two high school principal positions out of the one. After a short 35 minutes and only board member Monte Schmeige asking any serious questions, the majority rammed through the decision. West Bend now has two high school principals. Several things are untoward about this.

First, this was the first time the issue had been addressed at a public meeting and the school board was already acting on the move. There had been no public outcry for the change and the issue of two principals was not even mentioned in the superintendent’s list of concerns identified after canvassing the community, teachers, parents and students. The School Board acted on a significant change to the district’s structure in a special session with no notice and without inviting any public discussion.

Second, Larson and Schmeige both referenced that the board did discuss the issue of two principals in a closed session earlier in the week. Closed sessions are only allowed to discuss very specific things like personnel issues and legal matters. Also, the agenda for that closed session did not reference a change to the organizational structure. Such a discussion in closed session would appear to run afoul of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. One of the principles of good governance is for our elected representatives to conduct their business in public view.

Third, the decision appears to have been made with no research, thought or planning. Nobody on the board asked the superintendent for his input during the meeting. The board did not share any cost estimates (yes, it will cost more), reporting structure, job descriptions, ideal candidate qualifications, etc. Either the board acted rashly in utter ignorance of the impact of their decision, which would be an abominable act of incompetence, or they had vetted these issues in private, which would have been a violation of the principle of open government.

Two business days after the special session in which the School Board created the two principal positions, the board appointed two district assistant principals, Ralph Schlass and Darci VanAdestine, to be those principals. Once again, the board has acted in complete opposition to any sense of good governance, transparency or propriety. And in this case, they have likely exposed the district and the taxpayers to significant legal liability.

Normally an employer like the school district would initiate a defined and legal hiring process whereby they post the positions, solicit applications, filter down to final candidates, conduct interviews and then make a selection. The purpose of such a process is to ensure that the employer finds the best possible person for the position and to make sure the process is fair, thus insulating the employer from accusations of discrimination. By scrapping a real hiring process in favor of a snap appointment, and by completely bypassing the superintendent and human resource processes in place, the School Board has made itself the hiring manager and is engaging in exceedingly risky behavior.

Why were Schlass and VanAdestine selected? Is the board clairvoyant that they know these two people to be the best possible people to lead the high schools? Do any of the board members have a personal relationship with either of them? Were minorities given a fair shot at the jobs? What process was used to decide on these two? Who was involved in that process? Given that the board members did not discuss who to appoint in open session and these two were presented as a fait accompli, when did they decide on these two? Why were other district employees not considered? Did either of these appointees have any disciplinary issues in their current roles?

Incidentally, I have asked the School Board president for insight and filed several open records requests to answer some of these questions. So far, nobody has seen fit to illuminate the process. The school board seems intent on obfuscation and obstruction despite duplicitous protestations to the contrary.

It is entirely possible that having two high school principals is better than one and that Schlass and VanAdestine are the best people to lead our high schools. But the citizens of the West Bend School District will never know. The School Board’s insistence on abandoning any normal, deliberative, competent, open process has robbed the public of ever knowing for sure and has disavowed any expectation of good governance.

The final act in this bad school play is that the School Board is planning to ratify the contracts for Schlass and VanAdestine at the regular meeting on Monday. They still have the opportunity to correct course and allow for an open, fair, and legal hiring process to commence. They should seize that opportunity.

 

Promoting Friends

An anonymous reader alerted me to a possible conflict of interest on the West Bend School Board. You may recall that the West Bend School Board has been on a tear recently. With no public input or discussion, and after apparently illegally discussing the matter in closed session, the school board split the high schools principal position into two positions and appointed two vice principals to those positions. The board bypassed any semblance of a hiring process. They did not post the positions internally or externally. They did not accept any applications. To date, nobody on the school board has explained why the two new principals were chosen over their peers or why the district did not solicit applications for the jobs.

We may be getting closer to an explanation.

The two appointees are Ralph Schlass and Darci VanAdestine. I have been told by multiple sources that Board President Tiffany Larson and her husband, Ron Larson, are friends with Ralph Schlass. Larson has been the one responsible for driving the hiring process and bypassing normal hiring procedures or best practices. The anonymous reader who contacted me is a graduate of West Bend West and has access to the yearbooks from 1989-1990. Mr. Schlass and Mr. Larson were both graduates of West Bend East (classes of 1990 and 1989, respectively) and both played on the basketball, football, and baseball teams their entire high school careers. In short, these two spent a lot of time together and it is not much of a jump to think that they were close acquaintances if not fast friends.

So… given the apparent close personal relationship between the Larsons and Schlass, is it appropriate for Tiffany Larson, in her role as the West Bend School Board President, to bypass a fair hiring process to appoint promote Schlass? Schlass may indeed be the best candidate for the job, but we will never know if there isn’t a fair process that is open to all applicants.

The School Board has not executed the contracts to appoint Schlass or VanAdestine. That is on the schedule for the August 14th meeting. I have also heard whispers that they might call another “emergency” special session and do it earlier. In either case, it is not too late for the School Board to slow down and allow for a fair, open process to find the best possible principals to lead the West Bend High Schools forward.

I have contacted Larson for comment, but she has refused to respond to me on previous inquiries.

West Bend School Board Calls Another Closed Session

The agenda of tomorrow’s closed session by the West Bend School Board has a few interesting items like this one:

3. Pursuant to Wis. Stats. 19.85(1)(f) to consider financial, medical, social or personal histories or disciplinary data of specific persons, preliminary consideration of specific personnel problems or the investigation of charges against specific persons, which, if discussed in public, would be likely to have substantial adverse effect upon the reputation of any person referred to in such histories or data, or involved in such problems or investigations, and take any such action, if necessary, based on its discussion namely: Initial review of results of exit surveys received from former central office administrators.

Also, in response to the potentially illegal and certainly intemperate actions by the board lately, former School Board President Rick Parks sent them this letter (subject to open records) urging them to slow down, allow public input, and follow normal board good governance protocols. He also makes the extremely valid point that as board members circumvent the normal hiring process and become active hiring managers, they are exposing themselves to some substantial personal liability for possibly violating hiring ethical standards and laws.

To:               West Bend School Board Members

From:           Rick Parks

Date:            July 30, 2017

Re:               Board Member Responsibilities in Hiring

It was not my intent to pepper you with unsolicited advice after my “retirement” from public life.  Public bodies make their own path, and at the end of the day, things usually work out.

But I do feel an obligation to the community, and to individual board members, to point out some areas to watch as you move up the level of board involvement in individual employee hiring decisions.

Based on the public statements I’ve seen, and the manner in which announcements have been made, it appears that the board has taken the lead on how administrative positions are organized and has even gone on to in effect become the “hiring manager” for filling some positions.  While directing organizational structures is not unusual for school boards, with the proper community discussion and vetting, moving on to decide which individuals will fill these roles, rather than the traditional process of ratifying selections that have been advanced by the administrator, is quite unusual.  It may be unique. This also exposes the district, the board as a whole and individual members to risks that may not be fully understood or contemplated.

My business conducts employment law refresher training about every two years for all of our Supervisors, Managers and Executives.  We just had one last week, conducted by a partner from Quarles & Brady, who has also been the employment law resource for the school district.  I thought I’d give you the benefit of some observations I made in the update that are relevant to your current process at the schools.

“Hiring Managers” take on a significant liability for their organization, and in some cases, personally.  When the board moves to making these decisions they must understand and follow proper hiring practices.  When the board acts in a governance manner, by setting expectations that administrators follow all best practices in screening and selecting candidates, there is some defense that flaws in a hiring process fell outside the scope of how an administrator was expected to conduct the process. This could minimize or deflect liability if things don’t go well.  This almost certainly relieves a board member from personal liability for their decision.  By becoming a hiring manager you take on the full risk as a body and perhaps even individually.

As a hiring manager I’ll offer some freshly reinforced best practices each member of the board ought to observe:

  • All positions should be posted internally before being filled. In the case of the newly organized and established dual high school principal positions, you appear to have skipped over this requirement, which is troublesome.  While it might seem that posting for one principal for both high schools suffices, I would suggest it does not.  The feedback at the last board meeting revealed concerns and disappointment on this.  Why is posting so important?  Currently in employment law failure to post is a leading reason for successful discrimination lawsuits.  You expose the district and yourselves to risk when you do not do this.
  • When acting as a hiring manager each of you are responsible for conducting due diligence on individuals you intend to hire. This would include as a minimum:
    • Reviewing a comprehensive background check
    • Reviewing the work history and professional qualifications of each candidate, which for current district employees should involve your own review of their personnel file
    • Conducting an interview with all candidates
  • Excusing yourself from a hiring process if you have a personal relationship with a candidate. In tort law this is a broader standard than the current district ethics policy or even state statutes on conflict of interest.  It could include friendships that might promote favoritism in the hiring process.

None of this is an issue of course unless someone begrudges your hiring process and then takes the next step of pursuing litigation.  Unfortunately we’ve already seen some rumbles of resentment on the process of hiring high school principals, which could set the stage.

As a public board you also face the court of public opinion, even if events don’t move to litigation.  If the board takes on the additional responsibility of being a hiring manager, and skips over the required due diligence, the public relations impact of not properly vetting background checks (with even innocent flaws) or work history would be painful.  And we should never take comfort that information such as this would not publicly surface due to its confidential nature.  At this point there are many people formerly associated with the district that have deep knowledge about any internal candidate the board might advance as a hiring manager.  It would be naïve to think that the rumor mill would not advance any issues that may have been missed by lack of proper due diligence.  This would harm the credibility of the board and any candidates that might have flaws in their record.  Since some members of the current board have placed a focus on using ethical hiring processes a slip here would be especially damning.

Some parts of a best practices hiring process for the high school principal positions are behind you now and can’t be implemented.  It’s too late to post positions and go through a formal vetting and hiring process.  Realistically it’s also too late to interview candidates.  But the remaining due diligence is available to you all and I highly suggest you do the following:

  • Personally review background checks for each designee. Don’t delegate this.
  • Review the personnel file for each candidate.
  • If you have a personal relationship with any candidate, excuse yourself from the vote to approve their contract.

If all board members go through these processes and are comfortable with what they review, the routine process of approving contracts in the consent agenda on August 14th would be completely appropriate.  On the other hand, if even one board member has reservations based on their due diligence review, it would be appropriate to pull out these contract approvals and vote on them separately from the consent agenda.  This would allow that member(s) to be on record as not supporting the process and offer them some legal protection, and also some protection in the court of public opinion.

In open session this of course could not involve a discussion of why a contract was being approved or not approved, but all contract offers do contain the disclaimer that they are subject to board approval.  I don’t believe there would be exposure to liability for an individual board member, or the board as a whole, if a contract that had been offered were not approved.  This should have been part of any written offer.

While my professional life puts me in a position of interacting with attorneys that work directly for my company and are hired for specific purposes (including employment law) on an almost daily basis, I am not an attorney and can’t offer legal advice.  This is decidedly a friendly “heads up.”  Any board member that wishes to interact with the district corporate counsel for legal advice involving their board service is always free to do so.  If you have questions or concerns about what I’ve shared here I encourage you to do just that.  As for the court of public opinion, I did live with that for six years and have some understanding of how things work there.  It can be brutal.

Rick Parks

 

 

County School Districts Merging

Here’s a good example of two local unit of governments deciding to merge in order to save costs and better serve the community.

After lengthy consideration and much input, the Friess Lake and Richfield Joint 1 school districts have agreed to consolidate into one district for the 2018-19 school year.

Both districts’ boards of education approved identical resolutions during their own recent regular meetings so the legal process can proceed. Friess Lake’s board approved the resolution last week, while the Richfield board approved the proposal Monday.

Richfield Joint 1 School District Administrator Tara Villalobos said both boards feel that the community’s students will be better served if the districts join.

On a side note, the the mergers of the administrations will necessarily mean that some folks will be looking for work. The superintendent of the smaller district, Friess Lake, is John Engstrom, who is actually a resident of the West Bend School District. Local folks may remember him because he was a vocal member of the local lefty establishment and ally of the teachers union fighting conservatives on the school board a few years ago. He even filed several ethics complaints against the School Board – including at least one in cahoots with then union president, Jason Penterman.

At the time, Engstrom had some comments that would apply to the current board:

“he said the board member had a duty to keep an open mind and refrain from making a decision until all the facts were in, according to board policy.”

[…]

“A school board member is not a city councilman; they’re not a pothole-fixer, they’re not a person who was elected by a group of constituents and their job is to take care of the people who elected them,” Engstrom said. “That’s hard for the general public and a new school board member to grasp.”

[…]

“I’m just kind of concerned that the new normal for the West Bend School Board is ‘We’re each going to go off and do our own thing’ and ‘Ideology trumps policy,’ ” he said.”

I would note that Engstrom and Penterman have been silent about the current board’s corrupt behavior – in fact, Penterman has been aggressively defending their allegedly illegal and undemocratic actions of late because they are ramming through initiatives he supports.

Given that Engstrom is a liberal superintendent who will likely be looking for a job and the majority of the West Bend School Board seems to be intent on pleasing the teachers union and local lefties, will we see Engstrom joining the West Bend School District?

West Bend School Board Proceedings

The Washington County Insider has a couple of stories (story one and story two) up about the West Bend School Board meeting last night in which they rammed through appointments for the new high school principals. She has a lot of video so you can see for yourself what transpired. I found this part very interesting:

Decorah Elementary School Principal Nan Lustig also addressed the board during the meeting.

-“I have some questions about what this is.  I didn’t realize the positions were already filled.”

-Lustig talks about transparency. “None of us knew that any of these meetings were going to take place. You asked for input from a wider audience and open meetings that were videotaped but I couldn’t find those things.”

-Lustig talked about her memories of a two-principal system and said she the system works and she had not issue with that. Her questions were about the hiring practice. “I was confused at less than 24 hours for such a huge meeting. I’m wondering why we didn’t gather more input from a wider audience. We got a lot of questions and concerns about ethical hiring practices.”

-“We went from a practice where we openly posted positions, we checked references, we asked the same list of questions to all references, we completed the documentation and we sent that to HR where we forwarded the contract.”

-“Did we post it internally? … Did we ask who else was interested?”

-“We’ve always been told as administrators when we come before the board we need a plan, a process and a financial impact of a decision. I didn’t read any of those things in the paper. I want us to be concerned and as a taxpayer I wonder what the answer to those things are.”

So an existing principal in the school district didn’t have any notice that this was going on. Looking at her comments and the comments of others, it does not appear that the school board made any effort to ask interested employees to put their name up for consideration or post anything internally. It looks like the school board had their two people chosen and slammed them into the jobs. The school board didn’t bother with interviews, applications, discussions, or anything else.

So the question is, why these two people? What makes them so much more qualified than other district employees like existing principals or other assistant principals? Why were they the only two even considered? Hmmmm…

Former school board members Rick Parks and Randy Marquardt also admonished the board for their process. Parks, a person whom I respect but did not originally support for the office, was very direct.

Those of you who only weeks ago campaigned on a platform to be transparent and inclusive have let us down.

Indeed. The hubris of this board is astounding.

 

West Bend School Board Appoints Two Principals

Well, the West Bend School Board has compounded its buffoonery of last week and appointed two new principals.

In less than a week, the West Bend High Schools went from recruiting for an Executive Principal to oversee both high schools to two appointed principals. Let’s review the timeline…

On Tuesday of last week there was a closed meeting of the school board to discuss the candidates for the Executive Principal. At this meeting, the school board apparently discussed the issue of two principals (listen about 5 minutes into this video). That would, by the way, appear to be a pretty flagrant violation of Wisconsin’s Open Meeting Law. Changing the organization structure from one to two principals doesn’t come close to meeting any of the eleven possible exemptions from the Open Meetings Law. But it happened…

Late in the day on Wednesday, the School Board gave notice of a special meeting to be convened on Thursday with the vague agenda item of:

2. Executive session pursuant to Wis. Stats. 19.85(1)(c) to consider employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility, and take any such action, if necessary, based on its discussion, namely: review and consideration of high school administrative assignments

On Thursday evening, in a 35 minute meeting with almost no public input, no cost estimate, no comment from the Superintendent, no real attempt at any thoughtful consideration – except from Monte Schmiege – and with two board members absent, the board votes to make two principals. It was also the first public meeting in which the board even discussed this policy change.

Two business days later, on Monday, the School Board has appointed two employees to these positions. Apparently no other candidates were considered. And apparently minorities need not apply for leadership positions in the West Bend School District (at least, that is the kind of accusation to which the district is exposed to thanks to this “process”).

It is also utterly unbelievable that this process could have happened so swiftly without substantial coordination by board members behind the scenes. Appointing people to open positions and making these kinds of staffing recommendations and changes are normally the purview of the Superintendent, but the School Board is clearly dictating personnel decisions to him.

I’m sorry to say that the new principals may be great people, but their tenures are tainted out of the gate by this process.

West Bend School Board Prepares to Appoint New Principals

Well, well… the West Bend School Board posted its agenda for its Monday meeting. It includes this:

Action Item 6:45 a. Possible Board appointment of East High School principal and appointment of West High School principal

So here’s where we are… Sometime late Wednesday, the school board president posted notice of a special meeting for Thursday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon – without any public input, study, recommendation from the administration, cost estimate, job descriptions, org structure, or any other details – the school board voted to change from one to two principals for the West Bend High Schools. And now on Monday afternoon, they intend to appoint those principals without any time for people to submit applications, public input, interviews, etc.

This has all the hallmarks of a board that has already colluded to create and then ram a couple of people into these positions. Such collusion would be illegal and a violation of open meeting laws. The lack of any real discussion of the issue on Thursday, or even asking the superintendent to weigh in, indicates that they had either already discussed it, or they have such a passive interest in asking tough questions that it borders on incompetence.  They already demonstrated astonishingly poor governance on Thursday. They appear to be about to compound that on Monday.

I will state again that two principals may indeed be preferable to one. I can certainly see the rationale for it. But the lack of transparency, nonexistent communication, eschewing of public input, failure to do even a rudimentary study of the costs or consequences, and disregard for even basic principles of good governance being displayed by this board is deplorable.

 

Walker Signs School Choice Bill

With all of the heat and controversy constantly raging, it is remarkable that this bipartisan bill was passed and signed with almost no fanfare.

MOUNT PLEASANT, WI — Gov. Scott Walker has signed a new voucher school bill into law Wednesday that requires private schools participating in a school choice program to conduct background checks of its employees.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 28-5 and was concurred by the Assembly with a vote of 67-30.

The new law also eliminates certain academic threshholds that choice schools must currently meet, including at least one of the following:

1) At least 70 percent of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.

2)) The private school’s average attendance rate for the pupils in the program is at least 90 percent

3) At least 80 percent of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic
progress

4) At least 70 percent of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the private school.

West Bend High Schools to Have Two Principals

I attended the meeting of the West Bend School Board that I mentioned this morning. What a deplorable example of governance.

Quick background… West Bend has two high schools in one building. It is apparently unique in this regard. Several years ago, in an effort to trim the cost of administration, the district went with a combined principal and single administrative staff. Tonight, the board voted to go back to two principals and, presumably, two staffs.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the decision itself. I see the sense in having two principals and as long as the cost of administration remains neutral or decreases, then it’s really just a matter of organizational structure. I can make an argument for either structure. But the method by which the board made their decision was an example of exceedingly poor governance.

Bear in mind that this is a board whose newest members have promised better transparency and stakeholder input. It is also a school district that was just completed a study about its communications. The study was fairly critical of the district’s communications and transparency and had several recommendations. The campaign promises and study were ignored in this process.

First, the board called a special meeting with almost no notice. The meeting notice was released the night before the meeting. They claim it was released 24 hours in advance in accordance with the law, but if they did it was by the skin of their teeth. The notice was buried in their website, but did not appear on their social media outlets or anywhere else. The only way anyone would have known about the meeting was if they happened to scan the public notices at the library this morning or dug into the meeting agendas about seven clicks down into the district’s website. Fortunately, the Washington County Insider saw it and wrote about it. That appears to be how most people who managed to attend the meeting heard about it.

Second, the description of the meeting in the notice did not mention one principal versus two. It was generic language about administrative policies. The only reason anyone knew that the board would be discussing splitting the principal position into two was because the board president emailed The Washington County Insider saying so.

In other words, the board planned to make a rather significant decision regarding the administrative structure of West Bend’s High Schools and failed to make even a cursory effort to inform the public or invite input. Indeed, their actions indicate that they were almost trying to evade public input.

During the meeting, Board President Tiffany Larson read a lengthy preamble laying out the rationale for the meeting. She stated that after hearing feedback during a listening panel, she thought that the public wanted two principals, so she brought it to the board. Board Member Monty Schmiege questioned her on this point later in the meeting. Larson admitted that the panel was actually a listening panel for hiring a new principal and was not to discuss this issue. She admitted that it was an off hand comment from someone during the meeting. One of the few speakers was an assistant principal who was a member of that panel. She questioned it and said that she did not recall the issue even being discussed. Larson also didn’t name who made the comment. Nobody can apparently even verify that the root comment that generated this meeting even happened.

A few speakers managed to speak during the public comment period. They all supported two principals, but several of them also complained about the lack of communication or notice. One person mentioned that she is a parent whose husband is a teacher and the only way she found out about the meeting was on the Washington County Insider. There was no notice to parents, faculty, staff, or anyone else.

Larson and board member Tonnie Schmidt both brushed aside concerns about communication or public input. Larson made some comments about this being a discussion in the community for years. They said that the reason for the urgency was that they wanted to get it changed prior to the new school year starting. The cited a couple of letters from former principals and comments from unnamed people in the community. Apparently, that passes for public input. I, for one, didn’t even know it was up for discussion until this morning, and now it is done. I suspect that hundreds of people will read this, the Washington County Insider, or the Daily News over the next couple of days and have had no idea this even happened.

Schmiege also made reference to the fact that the issue was discussed previously in a closed executive session and apparently the Superintendent was going to conduct a study of the issue and make a recommendation. The board acted without any research, study, cost estimates, or recommendation from the administration. We have no idea what the cost will be. We don’t know what the division of labor will be. We don’t know what the reporting structure will be. We don’t know anything. All we know is that now there will be two principals instead of one. Larson dismissed such concerns saying that West Bend had two principals for decades and it will work. Only ignorance could instill such confidence.

I would note that I did reach out this morning for comment from every board member. None of them have responded. This is the third or fourth time I’ve asked for comment without any response. The new board’s communication policy appears to be to not communicate at all.

Emergency School Board Meeting Tonight in West Bend

Well, this is curious

NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

Education Service Center 735 S. Main Street,

West Bend Board Room Thursday,

July 20, 2017 5:00 pm

Call to order

1. Action Item

a. High School Administrative Reorganization

2. Executive session pursuant to Wis. Stats. 19.85(1)(c) to consider employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility, and take any such action, if necessary, based on its discussion, namely: review and consideration of high school administrative assignments

Adjourn

This is odd for a few reasons. First, as far as I can tell, this notice went out last night or early this morning – less than 24 hours before a school board meeting. That is hardly adequate notice for a public meeting. Usually when a meeting is called with so little notice, it is done so because of some emergency or critical issue – like a security issue or a major HR issue. The stated reason for this meeting does not strike me as an emergency. It strikes me as a normal policy issue that could easy be dealt with in the normal course of business for the board. Why the last minute urgency?

Second, on the issue itself, I’m hearing that it is to discuss whether the West Bend High Schools should have a principal for each high school, as they had in the past, or continue with a single principal for both schools, as they are currently structured. If that is indeed the topic to be discussed, then why not put that in the description of the meeting? The reason stated in the public notice is very vague and dull-sounding, but I know that many school district stakeholders have a passionate interest in the issue of one principal vs. two. Why does the notice obfuscate the topic to be discussed?

Third, if the school board is calling an emergency meeting to talk about whether to have two principals instead of one, I can only assume that that means that some of them really want two. Why have an emergency meeting to just affirm the status quo? But I thought the majority of the school board members ran for office saying that they wanted fewer administrators – not more.

We’ll see what happens tonight.

UPDATE: The Washington County Insider has confirmation that this meeting is, indeed, about one vs. two high school principals. Why didn’t they put that in the meeting notice then? And, again, why the special meeting for it?

According to an email from West Bend School Board president Tiffany Larson, “It is a discussion pertaining to the benefit of returning to the traditional 2 principal arrangement or maintaining the current model of 1 principal for 2 high schools.”

Bill Would Allow Schools To Provide Firearm Education

Good.

Wisconsin high school students would learn how to handle a range of guns — from handguns to rifles — as an elective class under a state Assembly bill introduced last week. 

Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) is the lead sponsor of the bill, which would allow schools to offer on-site gun education classes. Its purpose is to promote gun safety and to boost participation in trap shooting, he said.

The bill would not change a current law that prohibits live ammunition and its use on school property.

The bill would not require schools to offer a class. If they did, students would not have to take it. However, the bill would require school superintendents to develop curricula.

Bias in the Classroom

Teachers are humans and subject to all of the same biases and flaws as anyone else. Most of them will be professionals, but even kids pick up on body language and tone.

As teachers, we are bound by the 1996 Education Act to present different political beliefs impartially and to not promote partisan political views. Yet, probably unintentionally, my school is often an echo-chamber for the leftwing views of its staff and its students’ parents.

Views that fall outside the accepted liberal-left spectrum get short shrift in my staffroom. I have watched teachers react incredulously – almost to the point of tears – when colleagues have tried floating a reasonable case for Brexit. This would be harmless enough if it did not put in doubt their ability empathise with views opposed to their own.

Unfortunately, I see that lack of empathy in the classroom. It worries me that few of my colleagues seem to understand why Conservatives think as they do. In lessons discussing the general election, I have seen teachers make half-hearted attempts to present a rightwing line of reasoning about the major issues. Their bored or frustrated tone of voice says it all.

In theory students are introduced to a range of ideologies through studying government and politics. But I have only heard Labour politicians being criticised by fellow teachers for being too rightwing. We have had assemblies celebrating feminists and the campaign for a living wage, which are excellent and informative, but with no attention given to right-of-centre subjects (none that weren’t heavily critical, anyway).

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules on Open Meetings

Excellent! There seems to be a trend of school boards trying to do more and more in the dark. We need to be vigilant about pushing that trend back.

MADISON – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Appleton school officials violated the open meetings law when they reviewed a freshman reading class behind closed doors.

The unanimous decision by Justice Michael Gableman reversed two lower court rulings. The case now returns to Waupaca Circuit Court for further proceedings.

UW Won’t Cover UWO Foundation Debt

Good.

The University of Wisconsin System will not use taxpayer money to pay the debts of the troubled UW-Oshkosh Foundation, officials said Tuesday, and has backed out of talks with the nonprofit’s creditors about a potential settlement.

It would be “inappropriate” to use public funding to cover what the foundation still owes for a series of improper real estate projects orchestrated by two former top administrators at the Oshkosh campus, said Regent Michael Grebe.

UW officials acknowledged in May that they were in “preliminary discussions” on a settlement with banks that loaned the UW-Oshkosh Foundation money, prompting an outcry from lawmakers who said they opposed a taxpayer-funded “bailout” of the private nonprofit.

 But Grebe said Tuesday that the System is “no longer engaged in settlement discussions, and there is no indication as to if (or) when those talks would resume.”