Dear editor,

When will enough be enough? The removal of the principal at Wausau East (High School) and the corresponding legal judgement is the latest in a series of symptoms indicating deep disease afflicting the Wausau School District administration and the Wausau School Board in particular.

Like frogs in a heating kettle, we are enduring one controversy after another, distracted from the rising temperature that is harming families and our sense of community. There has been needless conflicts over district restructuring, bussing, human growth and development, the mismanagement of a referendum that promised money for maintenance on neighborhood schools that were then closed, mishandling of Title IX complaints, disregard for our Asian community, disregard for concerns about the chemical impact to our groundwater by the installation of artificial turf on athletic fields, disregard for a major petition requesting community input on restructuring, disregard for teacher satisfaction surveys, and now an exodus of seasoned educators and administrators. That is just the last two or three years. Just in the last two or three weeks, the public was asked to take seriously a mascot survey published by the district in which the Wausau “Banana Slugs” was presented as an option. This is not the fruit of serious leadership.

Indifference and mismanagement are the words that most come to mind as I have watched the functioning of the school board especially within the past 18 to 24 months; and it is a shame because I have no reason to doubt that these are otherwise good people, kind and caring in their own ways. Still, as recent board members were elected on the backlash to school closures during the worst of the Covid crisis, the board’s ideological myopia has only increased, and its “group think” has produced terrible decisions.

Only board members Pat McKee and Cory Sillars, in my observation, have asked probing questions during the restructuring process, listened (and responded) to broader swaths of the community, and have been willing to vote independently—sometimes for, sometimes against. This encourages me because there are probably plenty of differences between them—which may hold a key to a more hopeful future. 

The school board badly needs new blood, but merely replacing members with people that hold opposite views, if equally entrenched, would only be further symptomatic of the disease, not its healing. In highly partisan times, Wausau needs new board members willing to look beyond other divisions with no other motivation than doing what is best for the families and the neighborhoods of Wausau. We need new board members who are representative of our neighborhoods and the rich cultural and racial tapestry that is Wausau today. We need new board members willing to listen to and support our amazing teachers. And we need new board members willing to actively solicit input from the whole community, not merely the loudest voices or those who reinforce already-held views. We need a school board that takes a student-first approach to management, recognizing that strong kids help make strong families, and strong families make strong neighborhoods, and strong neighborhoods make strong communities, and strong communities are places where folks want to move to, live, raise their own children, and to teach—which then produces strong school districts. 

It may be too late to correct the worst errors of district restructuring, but there are many important decisions to come. The same people doing the same thinking that brought us down to this level cannot be the ones to lead us to a brighter horizon.

Scott Seefeldt of Wausau

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 or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.