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Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.

Dear editor,

On May 12 the Wausau School District (WSD) approved a facility rental agreement for the Wisconsin Family Council (WFC), a Madison WI based religious lobbying group, to utilize the Wausau East High School auditorium for a speaking engagement by Every Black Life Matters (EBLM), a Texas based group that touts itself as the “Biblical Alternative” to the Black Lives Matter movement (see materials embedded below).  This event took place on May 22, 2021. (see facilities agreement embedded below)

Regarding the First Amendment and free speech, a school district must equally rent to outside groups or organizations without prejudice but within policy.  If a school district has a policy of renting to church or religious organizations, it must rent to them equitably, however the WSD has a rental policy that addresses the specifics as it pertains to this specific situation.

The EBLM speaking event hosted by the WFC on school district property violated the 1st amendment regarding the separation of church and state in two glaring and alarming ways: 

  1. Wausau taxpayers subsidized a religious based event because the WFC was charged the Tier 2 rate for their event at the Wausau East Auditorium.  Tier 1 is $0/hr.  Tier 2 is $30/hr and Tier 3 is $200/hr.   These rates are determined by the ‘purpose’ of the building use which leads to the 2nd violation,
  2. Language in the WSD Facility Use Fee Schedule (attached and active as of May 12, 2021) clearly states in the Tier 2 purpose column, “The purpose of the event/usage is to benefit both Wausau School District students and the hosting organization.”  This can be interpreted that WSD administration intended a faith-based event organized by a faith-based lobby group to be beneficial to public school students.

The core issue is that the Wausau School District violated the First Amendment and that needs to be addressed.  As a parent of a WSD student and a taxpayer, I am gravely concerned, however it does beg the question, what led the WSD administration to approve this event at a discounted rate? 

It’s important for the public to know that two individuals who sit on the Wisconsin Family Council board of directors are Lee Webster, who’s a member of the Wausau School Board and Jack Hoogendyk, head of the Marathon County Republican Party.  Jack Hoogendyk publicly addressed the Wausau School Board on 05/10/2021, curiously touting the EBLM speaking event two days before the rental contract was even approved and signed.  Because of Lee Webster’s long-standing affiliation with the WFC,  this event plainly goes against the WSD Use of Facilities policy (attached) which states, “No non-school related group or entity may promote an activity to occur on school grounds under this policy in any manner that conveys the impression that the School District supports, endorses, or is a partner with the group or individual’s cause”. 

Who in the WSD determines facility use fees and oversees approvals?  Why did the Wausau School district approve the contract and ignore their policy?  Why was the WFC only charged $30/hr and no staffing, AV or custodial fees which are cited in the Facility Rental Fee schedule, the crux of the 1st amendment violation? 

Suddenly and even more suspiciously the WSD is citing a different Facility Use Fee Schedule and added to their revamped website sometime on 06/15/21 or 06/16/21 as their reason for charging the WFC Tier 2 pricing. This was not the Facility Use Fee Schedule linked on their website up until now.  I have an email from Cassie Peck, Administrative Assistant to Dr. Hilts, the WSD superintendent dated May 26, 2021 (see attached) stating the link on the WSD website was not working at the time and she sent me the direct hyperlink to the District Facility Fee Schedule Google document and that is the one I’ve included.  Within the day the WSD website fixed their broken link and the fee schedule I was emailed was at the end of it.  

Is it more important to protect our students and operate within the constitution or bend to local leaders jockeying for power and controversy?  Why wasn’t Lee Webster forthright with his affiliation to the WFC and allow the district he’s elected to serve to violate their own policy?  Why was a different District Facility Use Fee Schedule posted on June 15th or 16th of this year?  Why would the WSD suddenly cite this different fee schedule concerning this event but consistently provide the link to the fee schedule, personally and privately, included here between then and now?

When I consider the Tier 2 rental fee criteria, events that come to mind are a local dance studio recital, an Optimist Club basketball tournament or a community theater play, not subsidizing the fly by night ‘Biblical Race Theory’ pet projects for religious organizations with political ties.  I calculated that the Wisconsin Family Council should have been charged $1027.60 to rent the Wausau East Auditorium.  This means that WSD unconstitutionally subsidized $917.50 of taxpayer dollars to the WFC.  This money needs to go back to the students.  The Wausau School District needs to pay closer attention to who they’re renting to, follow district policy and bill accordingly.  Lee Webster should vacate his seat on the Wausau School Board or be recalled.

Lacy Rodemeier, Wausau

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