School Board Hires Facilitator
Left, Board Members Kim Shirek and Jeff Ebel. (City-Times photo)
Board’s Inability to Compromise Requires Outside Help
By Amy Van Meter
The Stevens Point School Board will have an outsider’s point of view to resolve underlying issues in the near future.
The board decided Monday night in a 7 to 1 vote, with member Lisa Totten abstaining, to use the services of Dale Feinauer, a consultant and professor at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh, as a board facilitator for a workshop in the future. The need for a board facilitator became apparent after a recent survey of board members found that the climate of proceedings needed improvement.
“The board clearly has a significant level of conflict,” said Feinauer, who reviewed video footage of recent meetings. “Conflict drives decision making. The problem is when it becomes dysfunctional.”
The board doesn’t operate under the win-win mindset, where it can have a debate and all parties can leave satisfied that a compromise that will benefit the district was made, he said. The board is past that and is in a win-lose mindset, where the winning side is happy they have gotten their way and even satisfied that others with a different opinion lost.
Vice-president Angel Faxon agreed that the board at times had gotten together with members set in their opinion.
“I feel people come here with an absolute (mindset that their opinion is the only right way),” she said.
During Feinauer’s conversation with the board, he compared how debate should be similar to sporting events, such as football, where even though there are two sides, there are a set of rules to follow, a code of conduct that is accepted and a beginning time along with an ending time where the results are not appealable.
“You are so focused on debate that you don’t get the benefits of debate,” Feinauer said. “There’s not a lot of trust in some cases. We’ve got to change the perceptions of each other.”
Members of the board agreed that goals were difficult to accomplish.
“I think you have good points,” said member Renae Scheibley. “I don’t know how we can get there.”
Along with confidence building activities, such as finding commonality with each other by describing why they ran for office, Feinauer also recommended that the board should make decisions by consensus rather than voting and the duties assigned to Superintendent Attila Weninger should be his duties and the board should perform their role.
“You have to move out of that level of detail,” Feinauer said. “The board and the superintendent cannot both do the role of the superintendent.”
“You have had a two hour meeting and I don’t think you’ve made a decision besides approving the minutes,” he said.
While some members inquired the costs of Feinauer’s services to facilitate a half day workshop, he wasn’t concerned about about collecting a fee and even had an idea to have a facilitator around whenever the board needed.
In the past, students in the district have been taught how to facilitate meetings, which is useful for both the board and provides job experience for the students, he said.
“This isn’t about money,” Feinauer said.
With Bob Larson voting no via phone, the rest of the board agreed to host a workshop with Feinauer, although Totten abstained due to uncertainty.
“My issues are with trust so I don’t know how this (workshop) will help,” she said.
The board will set a future date with Feinauer to host the workshop.
Also at the meeting:
The Stevens Point School Board, with member Lisa Totten abstaining, voted to approve the 2013-2014 budget and tax levy.
With a levy on over $33 million, which is an increase of nearly five percent from the previous year, taxpayers can anticipate their taxes increasing to $8.89 per every $1,000.
The levy rate is average, according to Business Services Director Tom Owens.
“This district has been about $9 per every $1,000 (for the tax levy rate) since 1997,” he said during the meeting.
Owens was not available to comment after he presented the budget.