There is another controversy brewing in the West Bend School District, but it is difficult to discern how much of a controversy it is yet. Here’s a primer:
Last year the school district implemented a new assessment system called Galileo. Previously they used another system, but this one allows for more online use and has some other features. Also, it saves the district about $62k/year compared to the previous system. Here’s the email the district sent out yesterday with some explanation.
The teachers union and some of the teachers oppose the use of Galileo. They complain about some of the mechanics of Galileo, but those complaints would apply to any assessment system. The root of the agitation seems to be the fact that the results from assessments will be used for a part of the teacher evaluations.
As part of their opposition, union officials were circulating a petition in the schools opposing Galileo. You can read the petition here. So far, it’s all fine and good. The administration implemented a new system. Generally speaking, people don’t like change and, in this case, unions don’t like objective assessments being used to determine teacher performance. So there was ongoing discussion happening.
Then, something went sideways to escalate the situation. In discussions with the principal – presumably about the petition – Tanya Lohr was put on paid administrative leave. Lohr is a teacher and a long time liberal activist in the district. According to the union, she was speaking with the principal in her role as a union official – not as a teacher.
That’s really all we know about that. The union is saying that Lohr was unjustly put on leave to silence her or intimidate teachers into silence for opposing Galileo. The district, of course, can’t give their side of the story because it is a personnel issue. The very procedures and secrecy that the union demands forbids the district from commenting. So take what the union is saying with a grain of salt.
We do know that Lohr has a history of aggressively advocating her opinions regarding the functioning of the schools and has run afoul of the administration in the past. We do not know if she was already on a performance plan or violated any previous agreements with the district regarding her behavior. We also know that because of Lohr’s previous work history and knowing the inevitable backlash that would occur, it is exceedingly unlikely that the district would have put her on administrative leave without substantial cause.
Lohr’s disciplinary action has precipitated a response from many parents, teachers, and the union – particularly since it comes on the eve of finals.
That’s the story, but more questions remain. The cynic in me has me very suspicious about the timing of all of this. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum. The filing deadline for the West Bend School Board was the day before Lohr was put on leave. There are two seats up for election and five candidates on the ballot. One incumbent, the school board President, Randy Marquardt, is running for reelection. He is a conservative and leads the slim conservative majority on the board.
How convenient is it that this “crisis” has been precipitated and the teachers agitated on the eve of a school board election that could oust the conservative board president and tip the majority to the liberals? The answer is “very.” In fact, Waring Fincke, our local socialist agitator and Democratic Party official, started using this as a political wedge for the election within hours. And the commenters have done us the courtesy of pointing out the candidates who they believe will advocate their pro-union views:
As I said at the beginning, it is difficult to tell how much of a controversy this all really is. It could range anywhere from a tyrannical administration foisting a flawed assessment system on teachers and acting egregiously to quash their opposition to a completely fictional crisis manufactured by the union and a few activists to agitate the electorate before a school board election. I’m leaning to the latter part of that spectrum of possibilities.