Presley: School Board Created Own “Bureaucratic Nightmare”, Needs to Change
By Donnelly Clare
School Board Clerk Jeff Presley says has some problems with the way business is conducted during board meetings, and Monday night he minced no words about the changes he says are necessary for the board to get back on track.
The Stevens Point School Board, Presley said, is over-legislating its own self to such an extreme degree it can only operate at a snail’s pace. The board currently has 285 documents totaling hundreds of pages more which contain board policy, and governs everything from district goals to the manner in which board members- and members of the public- may speak during meetings.
Presley laid out several concerns over a 20- minute period Monday night, promising to “harp on this every meeting, I guarantee you”.
Presley said in his position as Board Clerk, he was privy to details of one administrator’s contract the board was never given, despite the fact the contract was ultimately approved by the board anyway. He said it’s not something he’s seen before in his experience serving on the Portage County Board of Supervisors.
“As the clerk I have to sign off on these kinds of things, and I refused to sign that contract,” Presley said. “How can we approve contracts as a board without even seeing them? It’s a regular habit of us now. I’m just as guilty as you all, but we should not approve any contracts without seeing them first.”
Presley said he wasn’t aware the superintendent position was granted the legal authority to act as a gatekeeper for all the board’s minutes and records until he went through the contract.
“Here’s the thing; we talk about the superintendent in those closed sessions, whether it’s written or recorded, and guess who has access to those records? We need to change our policy because I don’t ever want anyone to question the integrity of our superintendent because he or she has access to those records,” Presley said, adding records should be kept by the board president, vice president or secretary, or a combination of those positions.
“These aren’t new concepts, you know. We have become Washington, D.C.,” he added.
Presley had served one term previously on the School Board, and said his past experience on the school board, or any other elected body, wasn’t nearly as contentious. He called the current board climate a “bureaucratic nightmare” because often it takes several months to get a topic on the agenda for board discussion, and he pointed to the board’s tendency of creating an official policy to dictate even the minutest details, including how and when board members may email each other.
“The next point I have is, who runs this district? That’s a good question,” Presley said. “We spend over $100,000 in legal bills annually. We have dictated the way we do business by passing it to an attorney every time. I had a question about this administrator’s contact- guess what? It went to an attorney. I’ll bet are billed $400-$500 or her response. But her response had nothing to do with my question.”
Using the attorney so often makes no sense, he said, because the district already has free use of a lawyer through the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB)- membership fees for which the district pays some $10,000 a year.
“It doesn’t cost you a dime to make that call (to WASB),” Presley said, “yet we pick up the phone and call our own attorney every time. That’s a concern. At what we start teachers, those legal fees could pay for three positions. This could be money that goes back into our classrooms and teachers.”
Presley said the board needs a return to common sense if any positive changes are going to be enforced.
“We’re the Board of Education. We can’t move at a snail’s pace, you guys. There are issues this board was elected to address and if you have to wait six months to get something on the agenda…I’m waiting for the (board) shutdown to happen. We are literally making a bureaucratic nightmare of how we run our district. We are Central Wisconsin; we do business on a handshake sometimes here. Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but we need to go back to those days. I remember the days we could just walk up to the superintendent and get something on the agenda. What happened to those days?”
In a twist of irony, Board Member Kim Shirek asked Board President Terry Rothmann to respond on the record to Presley’s comments, but was prohibited from doing so under board policy, and policy Weninger reinforced.
“You can’t (respond) per board policy. Board policy says any board comment can’t be commented on,” Weninger said. “The board president would need to assign it (to the agenda).”
“But it’s on the agenda, and we’ve done it before,” Shirek argued, who then waved her hands in retreat. “But ok, I’ll find the cases where we’ve done it before. But Kudos to you Mr. Presley, I agree with you.”
Board Member Lisa Totten then asked Weninger to send her said policy which states board members aren’t allowed to comment, but Rothmann stopped the discussion short.
“Folks, can we stop please? If you want to speak, let me know, otherwise, we can pass the gavel around the table,” Rothmann said sarcastically. “It was on the agenda for an ‘information- only’ item, and we will be discussing the policy on board comments at a future meeting.”