Board Listening Session Sheds Some Light on Transportation, Morale Problems
“You have a problem; do your job, look into it and settle it. It’s that simple.”
By Brandi Makuski
With about 15 in attendance- mostly district employees- members of the Stevens Point School Board hosted its first public listening session on Jan. 14.
Six members of the Board came to the event but remained largely silent, only asking a few clarifying questions to comply with state law against conducting Board business without prior public notice. The meeting was chaired by Board Secretary Amy Dailey.
Several attendees spoke during the hour-long session, mostly district bus drivers outlining concerns of poor oversight in the transportation department. Drivers allege the district is “losing bus drivers left and right” because of badly-managed routes and poor employee treatment, which drivers say includes denial of bathroom breaks and removal of computer desk chairs in the transportation office.
Judy Pirog, a 24-year employee of the district, said transportation employees have been asking for Board assistance for two years.
“You did nothing; so let’s look at the results of what you allowed to happen,” Pirog said. “The parents did not receive route information before school started. The drivers had to ‘wing it’ and didn’t even get their routes until the first day of school, with lots of major errors in them. The safety of our children was jeopardized by being at at-home stops and not picked up at all.”
She also pointed to what she called “major turnover” in bus drivers, saying her department has lost 21 drivers in the past two years. Act 10, she said, is only partly to blame.
“The attitude is, let’s get rid of the long-term, dedicated employees and not treating them with respect or the appreciation they deserve,” she said. “[The Board] told us to follow the chain of command that has no morals nor cares- they are the boss. These are just a few of the things you say you can’t do anything about; the people voted for you because you promised to care about this district. Why do we even have a board? What have you done to resolve this issues? No one has sat down with us.”
Pirog also said transportation employees have “been threatened” with driving jobs being outsourced. A call to the transportation department for comment was not immediately returned.
Teachers, too, said the Board hasn’t done its job working with employees. Technical education teacher Matt Jacowski said he has trained new teachers making $10,000 more annually than he is, and district teachers haven’t seen in a raise a long time.
“No pay raise in the district- but then I see administrative pay raises,” said Jacowski, who teaches at Ben Franklin Junior High. “That tells me you value your administrators more than your teachers. Relationships are being broken; that creates a divide.”
Jacowski said he had been offered a lateral position at a nearby school district some time ago but opted to stay local because at that time, there was no difference in pay.
“If I’d have taken that position, I currently would be making $7,000 more a year,” he said. “I’ve looked at districts throughout the state; you’re going to be losing tech ed teachers because it’s getting to the point where we can make substantially more money in the private sector. It’s really hard to find those teachers; and there are currently 23 openings in the state.”
Others in attendance took the Board to task for not utilizing its time better.
Resident Sam Levin, who currently is running for one of three open seats on the School Board, said members waste time by not first bringing issues to the committee level before bringing it before the Board.
“There’s a lot of things that can be done through committee, then brought back to the board with a recommendation,” Levin said. “Why do you have to have a vote to put something on the agenda? It’s ridiculous; if the board wants something put on the agenda, it should be on a committee agenda, then sent before the board. You shouldn’t have to vote on it 2 or 3 times.”
Levin also said the Board spends too much time in closed session.
“Every meeting you have a closed session,” he said. “You don’t have that much to discuss. There is no transparency on this Board. You don’t need (a closed session) every single time. You have a problem; do your job, look into it and settle it. It’s that simple.”
At the Jan. 12 School Board meeting, Board President Angel Faxon suggested the listening sessions could be held regularly each month. The idea for the listening sessions was proposed by Member Alex Kochanowski, who said he felt additional opportunities were needed to the public to speak out.