Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School Board on Monday modified the district’s rebranding proposals, approving names and color schemes, but will await community feedback on mascots for newly formed schools.

The district, led by Superintendent Keith Hilts, also faced a rare public rebuke Monday from board members who criticized “inaccurate information” sent to the community related to the board’s recent rebranding discussions.

Board Member Pat McKee, reading portions of a recent email, had sharp words for the district.

“I wanted to be clear that the board, to my knowledge, unless I was at a wrong meeting, did not make any decisions regarding mascots,” the former board president said. “It says in here ‘the Board does want you to know that the final decision will be made with community input and that for unity sake, the four previous mascots would not be used: Cardinals, Lumberjacks, Warriors, and Warjacks.’ We never decided that.”

McKee, former president of the board, also took a jab at district officials on the budget set aside for the rebranding plan.

“I said the initial budget for rebranding was about a half a million dollars,” McKee said. “I was wrong; the initial budget was $106,000, per the Jan. 23 presentation and that was supposed to cover new school names, mascots, uniforms and equipment, and signage.”

Now, the cost of rebranding is in the millions. “We are not off by a factor of four, we are off by a factor of 20x or more depending on what it is,” McKee said.

Board Clerk Karen Vandenberg also said she was “honestly surprised and frustrated” about the budget issue.

Monday’s discussion and action comes in the wake of complaints by several parents and others in the community who said they had been promised participation in the discussions but, despite their expressed interests, they have been ignored. Some parents, staff and community members have also complained about the way the district administration conducts its surveys altogether.

Board members Cory Sillars and Pat McKee raised the community’s complaints during the meeting. Sillars said he was “not comfortable with how some things have been dealt” so far and “really want to make sure that students and parents have a voice.”

McKee said the integrity of the rebranding process should not repeat the experience of the district restructuring process, when several parents complained about being shut out despite expressing interest to be part of the discussions. In February, the board approved a massive district restructuring plan despite strong objections from the community.

Given the apparent high costs of rebranding, board Vice President Trollop once again suggested that private funding might be necessary instead of using money from the district budget. “If we need private funding, we need to get a buy in from people who are going to be asking to take part in that,” referring to people who might be part of the focus groups.

Trollop had also made this suggestion to a parent, Norah Brown, in correspondence through a Facebook post. Wausau Pilot & Review was copied into the exchange.

In his remarks, which Trollop was careful to point out was personal opinion, he said it would be “optimal to have those taking part in any sort of focus group or committee to be those who care the most about the issue and are willing to help raise the funds needed…in reality, this is usually accomplished naturally because those who don’t really care either way are typically not willing to volunteer to take part in hours of meetings.”

But Brown, in the exchange, pushed back.

“As far as your comments regarding participation in the fundraising process, if you believe that that option is available to anyone with an interest then you are out of touch with the reality of life for many families,” Brown wrote. “Fundraising does require financial resources. Attending meetings requires resources, financial and other. Even keeping up with what the board is doing outside of what it chooses to send out to families requires resources (time, money, and energy) that many people do not have.”

Brown also said the lack of active participation “does not necessarily equal a lack of interest. And active participation in fundraising should by no means be a prerequisite for having a voice.”  

Board in search of mascot that will unify merged schools, community

The school board did not make any decision on mascots during Monday’s meeting. Board President James Bouche struck out the proposal presented by the district administration, reminding officials that the community has significant history with regard to the mascots. First, Wausau had a Cardinal mascot, followed by the Lumberjacks. When the high schools split in 1970, East retained the Lumberjack while West chose the Warriors.

“I don’t want us to lose tradition,” Bouche said. “It would be very difficult to go for one logo. It won’t be unifying. And Wausau needs to come together behind this.”

He suggested that everyone fromacademic directors to the athletics directors to coaches to students and parents should be involved in deciding on the new logo for the high schools.

“As stated earlier, this is not just an athletics thing,” Bouche said, referring to a comment from a parent during the public comments period of the board’s meeting.

Several board members said they would prefer a new mascot that would unify the students from the East High and the West High, their parents and the larger community.

During Monday’s meeting of the nine-member board, representatives formally directed district leaders to seek feedback from the community on new mascots, color changes and the funding and timelines involved. Board member Cory Sillars will work with focus groups and update his colleagues to ensure that the community voices have been heard.

The School Board finalized a decision to rename the combined high school Wausau Senior High, for grades 10-12, and Wausau Junior High for grades 8-9. The high school will be located at the current Wausau West, with the junior high at what is now Wausau East. School colors will combine West’s blue and East’s red, instead of what district leaders had proposed: blue and yellow at the senior high and red and black at the junior high campus.

Board Vice-President Lance Trollop suggested the options while modifying the admin-proposed rebranding plan.

A formal motion directed the administration to facilitate focus groups as well as surveys and/or committees to develop proposals for mascot options at both new schools, along with the funding and timing components.

McKee suggested that someone from the district should take ownership of the rebranding exercise who should provide regular updates to the board. That person, he said, should be held accountable for future communication.