DA Says School Board Violated State Law
No forfeitures planned against board members, district
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point School Board has violated state law, according to the Portage Co. district attorney.
According to a letter from DA Louie Molepske’s office, board member Lisa Totten filed a complaint in March, alleging the board had met illegally, following a regular board meeting held at Jackson Elementary School.
Totten alleges then-Board President Angel Faxon, “announced she had something to tell the board about the superintendent search and that it wasn’t on the agenda” during the Feb. 23, 2015 meeting. Totten claims at some point during that discussion, she, along with board members Kim Shirek and Jeff Presley left the room, and the meeting continued without being properly noticed, according to Molepske’s letter.
Other board members serving during that time remained, including Jeff Ebel, Chris Scott, Meg Erler, Trish Baker, Faxon and School Board Secretary Amy Dailey, all of whom were interviewed by police. Many of those interviewed couldn’t remember if Faxon’s announcement was made during open and closed session that day.
The complaint was forwarded to the Stevens Point Police Dept., where detectives worked with the DA’s Office to determine if a law had been broken.
According to Molepske’s letter, Faxon’s announcement included informing the board one applicant for the superintendent’s spot had to withdraw due to family matters, and the discussion took “approximately 30 seconds” in open session.
Molepske’s legal opinion on the matter states the proper course of action was for Faxon to “not make her announcement or update on the non-agenda item at the Febrary 23, 2015 meeting” as it was not properly noticed to the public as required by law.
“There is nothing in the investigative file that would lead me to believe this non-agenda item needed to be discussed by the board at the time it was taken up in open, then possibly closed, session,” Molepske wrote. “The School Board members appear to have initially reacted to this non-agenda item correctly by questioning themselves and each other if, in fact, a non-agenda item was being placed before the board and whether the board could discuss them.”
Molepske said he does not plan to seek forfeitures.
“I do not believe your remedy of filing a forfeiture action against your fellow school board members is warranted…[T]here is disagreement when and how the non-agenda item was brought before the school board, and potentially whether the members singled-out by you “knowingly” violated the terms of meeting law.
Molepske also advised further education concerning the state’s open meeting law, and more attention to detail int he board’s notices.
The board held an in-service meeting in January, which included a presentation by district legal counsel regarding “board and employee use of confidential and other information obtained through board service or employment.” Statutes dictating open meeting law were also discussed during that meeting.