Board works to improve communication

BY SYDNEY WIDELL —

The school board published notifcation for the April 5 elections a week after the deadline to do so passed, having left the district open to the potential for fnes and investigation.

Chapter 120.06 of the Wisconsin state statute on school district proceedings mandates that a school district must publish notice of the spring elections by the fourth Tuesday in November prior to the elections themselves. However, notice of Shorewood’s elections was not posted until December 3, by which point the January 5 deadline to announce candidacy was only one month away.

Paru Shah, school board president, apologized to the community on behalf of the school board at the January 12 meeting. “I apologize for the board for the oversights on the posting. I feel confdent that those things will not happen again,” Shah said.

Due to the district’s quick response to the problem, they do not expect to see any state-issued follow-up. “We followed up with the government accountability board at the state level right away and there will not be any legal ramifcations. They basically told us not to let it happen again,” said Bryan Davis, superintendent.

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(Eli Frank) Board members listen at the school board meeting on February 9. The board election notice was posted late this year, which troubled Shorewood residents and presented legal concerns.

“There are only a few mandatory things you have to do as a board, and this is one of them,” said Gregg Davis, resident, no relation to the superintendent, in an address to the school board during the January 12 meeting.

“It came down to miscommunication within this offce. We are working with new personnel and getting the kinks out of our system,” Bryan said. “We corrected it immediately and discussed it at the next school board meeting, so the issue was brought out to the community.”

But Gregg’s worries run beyond any legal implications. “By [failing to announce elections], they are excluding the community they were elected to represent,” Gregg said. “This is representative of a much bigger issue, and it fts into a behavioral pattern that this board is known for.”

Transparent communication in general is an area he feels the board could improve in. “The school board is not being as open a government as possible,” Gregg said.

Gregg speculates that measures like the new public comment policy have been implemented to prevent situations like last spring’s, when districtwide tensions about over enrollment and curriculum peaked in a series of confrontations that brought board proceedings to a near standstill, from occurring again.

While Shah respects the community sentiment Gregg and others are giving voice to, she disagrees and credits the growing mistrust of the board to politics. “This is an issue of trust. In politics there are times when the person who delivers the message will be mistrusted no matter what,” Shah said. “We continue to be as transparent and as open as possible.”

Shah has found that the implementation of the comment policy has improved board effIciency while also enhancing public communication.

“People forget that this is our meeting in public, not a public meeting. By law, we’re not even required to take public comments. Board meetings are our time to talk to each other, and in the past, the comment situation has severely limited our ability to conduct effIcient, serious meetings,” Shah said. “Instead, we came up with other ways to get in touch with the community outside of meetings. I feel like I’ve spoken to many more community members outside of meetings, and I’ve infIltrated many more perspectives into my thinking.”

In light of the upcoming elections, Gregg feels that it is more important than ever for the public to be aware of current problems so that they can cast their ballots accordingly. “What it comes down to is what kind of board the public wants: one that is responsive to the community and that includes the community in decision making, or one where public input doesn’t really count,” Gregg said.

Bryan is confIdent that the delayed election notifIcations have not deterred anyone from posing for candidacy. “We have four good candidates and we’re looking forward to starting the election process,” Bryan said.

The seat held by Colin Plese, board vice president, and the temporary seat held by Joanne Lipo Zovic, interim board member, are the two places up for election this April.

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