Editorial: School Board Needs to Back off ‘ No Superintendent’ Idea
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point School Board seems to have made some strides lately in terms of improved public appearance and cooperation. Recent meetings are friendlier and shorter in length, though it’s impossible for any governing body to maintain this for an extended period of time.
Unfortunately, this body already has a rough track record, leaving public expectations pretty low. Hopefully, it can only improve from here.
However, the board needs to bone up on the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law. In May the board voted to non-renew Superintendent Attila Weninger’s contract while in closed session. This arguably was against the open meetings law because not only was it not included on the board’s agenda, but votes of this nature are not permitted to take place in closed session.
On June 17 the board held a special meeting to discuss the search for a new superintendent. That meeting wasn’t posted until 6:28 PM on June 16, just squeaking by the 24- hour public notice mark.
The lack of notice worried Board Member Alex Kochanowski greatly, who seemed just as concerned the spirit of the law, if not the letter, had been broken.
The special meeting notice did not include a “public comment” period- a portion of the public meeting during which members of the public are given 3-5 minutes, depending on how many wish to speak, to address the board on various issues.
No such public comment period was listed on this special meeting agenda, which could be why the meeting was so sparsely attended: only three news reporters and one area resident was present.
Given this district’s history, the vocal nature of area teacher groups and union groups of other district employees, the low attendance was shocking.
The sole citizen who was present on June 17 was permitted to address the board despite the agenda missing a specific public comment period, again bringing the board’s competency- and arguably, intentions- into question.
The board has some fantastic members; some new, some veteran. But even with new blood from the April election, this board may still be firmly implanted in the land of the 5-4 vote; watching each board meeting it’s fairly obvious which members are open-minded, and which operate from a hidden agenda (which in reality isn’t very well hidden).
The June 17 meeting brought a pretty good discussion on the options available to the board in its search for a new superintendent: the board could look within the district; it could hire a recruiting firm to perform a nationwide search for desirable candidates; or it could opt for moving ahead without a superintendent at all, something which is not required under Wisconsin law.
For a board anxious to continue micromanaging whomever is sitting in the superintendent’s seat, this is an excellent idea.
It also sends a loud message to any contractor, education group and potential employees: we have chosen to not employ the safeguard of checks and balances typical of the democratic process.
It puts any remaining visible objectivity of the board at risk, and prompts questions as to whether board members were individually contacted, bribed or in some other way influenced to vote a particular way.
Some members of this particular body seem to have forgotten it’s not their job to get their way; nor is it their place to further any agenda which doesn’t completely and totally benefit the public school students they claim to foster.
The position of superintendent is one which wears many hats throughout the day, but the most important role it plays is within the system of checks and balances of elected government. It is an additional pair of eyes; an additional pair of ears; and an additional pool of knowledge and experience through which information is strained before it’s presented to the already-overworked board. It’s a system that is vital to keep the checks and balances of the already-suspect school board intact.
To attempt to move forward without this additional check and balance in place is not only counterproductive to the success of our district, but dangerous to our community and ultimately our kids- some of whom will be caring for board members in another 30 years at area nursing care facilities, and some of whom will be running this community in the future.
Moving forward without a head administrator is not worth the risk.