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Wausau School Board mulls policy changes to modernize current practices

in News/Schools

By Shereen Siewert

The Wausau Board of Education is proposing a series of possible changes to current practices, an effort Board President Tricia Zunker describes as an exhaustive, ambitious project to replace a majority of policies through recommendations from NEOLA.

“This process will ultimately result in numerous benefits for the district, including policy updates where statutes change to ensure district policies mirror statutory requirements timely,” Zunker said. “But the policies will also result in modernization perhaps not reflected in some current policy.”

One such recommendation by NEOLA is that voting is allowed by phone, Zunker said.

“While we do permit attending open session by phone, we do not currently permit voting by phone,” Zunker said. ” It is a rare occurrence that a board member does attend by phone, but there are many legitimate reasons why it might happen – a sick child, an ill board member, necessary work travel, a pre-planned trip, for example. At Monday’s PRL meeting, the board overwhelmingly supported allowing voting by phone during open session. A number of current board members sit on other professional boards and shared our experiences with attending and voting by phone.  We also discussed attending by Zoom as an option.”

Pat McKee, vice-president of the board, said that the rule change could help encourage attendance and participation for current and future board members.

“An important component of an effective board is diversity in the broadest sense,” McKee said. “This includes having board members with school age children and those who work full time in order to provide for their families. These attributes, and many others, may require time away from the boardroom — kids get sick, kids have once a year events, board members get sick or may take a vacation, and some occupations require occasional travel that can’t be avoided. Establishing alternative methods to attend meetings is an effective way to provide the flexibility needed to achieve the aforementioned diversity. Also, we don’t have to look very far to find examples of public officials who attend every meeting without fail, yet contribute little to nothing to the overall effectiveness of the governing body. In person attendance is important, but it needs to be coupled with objective, intelligent and thought-provoking participation in order to be meaningful attendance.”

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards allows individual boards to authorize such changes while establishing appropriate procedures and limits.

Board member Jane Rusch is opposed to the policy change, pointing out that board members could potentially never show up in the board room for meetings.

“I just think it’s ripe for abuse and corruption,” Rusch said. “I just expect more from our public officials.”

Zunker said concerns that board members will not physically attend the meetings with this proposed change are wildly speculative.

“We should trust the voters who put board members in these seats that those elected to serve on the school board will fulfill their duties,” Zunker said. “And, hypothetically, if a board member were to abuse this proposed policy change, a number of solutions exist. A board president or her designee could address the concern with the board member; the media could run stories on a chronically absent board member; and the voters can ensure an absent board member doesn’t retain the seat in a subsequent election.  The board overwhelming supported the change because it is understood that attending and voting by phone would only happen in rare and valid occurrences.”

At this point, no final action has been taken. The full and complete policy changes, which are all in discussion and subject to revision, will happen in early fall, Zunker said.

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