Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School Board’s Education and Operations Committee on Monday unanimously voted to review language of a legal opinion regarding board members speaking during the public comments portion of board meetings after a disagreement over whether such a move violates the state’s open meetings law.

Wausau School Board President Pat McKee and board member Jane Rusch publicly sparred Monday over the issue. Rusch previously spoke during public comments to voice her opinion as a resident.

But McKee shared a legal opinion that supported his view that board members could violate state law if they speak during the public comments portion of meetings.

The Board president clarified that the legal opinion applied only to the Public Comments and said the Board members could not be in dual roles during meetings. “It is equally important to protect board members who do not want other board members speaking during Public Comment and do not want to bear the legal responsibility for those board members who do,” he added.

He also denied that he was trying to silence Rusch who accused the Board president of doing so.

Rusch also criticized McKee, said he did not give board members adequate time to review the legal opinion. She said that doing so would have allowed her to consult other legal experts on the matter.

Defending his move in bringing up the topic at the meeting, McKee said he sought the opinion after “some people” objected to the practice. But when Board Vice-President James asked him whether he received any formal complaint about the issue, McKee replied he had not.

Rusch said she has been forced to use the pubic comments portion of meetings after requests for placing items on the agenda have been repeatedly ignored.

“That never happened in the past,” Rusch said.

But member Jon Creisher said that any Board member could bring in a motion for the Board to vote on.

Most Board members felt they needed more time to review the topic.

Eight resolutions passed during school budget hearing

The Wausau School District passed eight resolutions during its annual meeting Monday. There will be another open session on the budget at the end of October.

Proposals listed on the agenda of the annual meeting included setting the tax levy for the General Fund at $32,665,024 (earlier this amount was listed at $30,665,024) with $662,200 earmarked for the Community Service Fund for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. 

Although a part of the series of open sessions discussions on the budget, the annual meeting is unique because it allows voters make their voices heard.

All resolutions, except one – related to Board members’ salary – were passed unanimously. At least two members in the audience voted no against the upgraded salary proposal. Board members’ annual salary of $3,100 has remained unchanged since 2005.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.