Mary Beth Writes

This week I attended Waukesha’s School Board meeting. I don’t have anything huge to say, but since many of you are also from Waukesha, let me report a few things.

This is my third time attending WSB. It meets the second Wednesday evening of the month from 7:00PM until about 9:00. Mary Duerson and I are always there now.

The first time I attended was right after the shooting incident at Waukesha South High School in early December. That event affected many in our church including parents of kids at that school or others. One of our young adults works for the school. Our congregation includes teachers and social workers. In the week after the shooting, we all began to hear parts of what had happened. An 18-year old boy with learning disabilities was in a particularly conflicted state of mind and brought a gun to school. When he pulled it out, the special ed teacher effectively got the rest of the student in that room out of the room. The school security guard, who also knew this student, was in the room with the student and the Special ed teacher. They were talking with him, calmly asking him to put the gun down. A Waukesha Police officer arrived, entered the room, commanded the boy to put the weapon down. When the boy reached for something, the officer assumed he was getting ready to discharge the weapon, so the cop shot the student. The boy was shot in the leg and taken to a hospital. He survives and is now in the court system for this felony. Yes, he is Black.

The week after this incident our congregation, during the few minutes usually devoted to members sharing joys and concerns -- that part of the service took over the service. People talked briefly and efficiently but they poured out the way this incident impacted them. I decided that day I would go to school board meetings and asked if anyone wanted to go with me. Mary Duerson and I have become a School Board attending team.

1. The first two times I attended, I used the 3-minutes allotted to community members to say what’s on their mind. Both times I attended I spoke to the need to support the Special Ed assistants and teachers we already have and to find ways to hire more - instead of unquestioningly buying more hardware to improve school safety. I asked that school board INTERVIEW current special ed teachers and assistant about their everyday challenges and successes.

The second Board Meeting I attended, the regular monthly award given to a school district employee, was given that evening to the Special Ed teacher Brett Hart. Mr. Hart was the teacher who handled the shooting incident; he removed other students from the classroom, he was talking with the distraught student with the gun. I’m glad they gave him the award. I did not see or hear any sign that safety committees actually asked Mr. Hart what could have gone better, why the situation happened or how what support or change in protocols would have prevented it.

This is Mr. Hart receiving the award, on Facebook:  

This week, if I heard correctly, the finances committee authorized purchase of upgraded security equipment for some of the schools.

2. “If I heard correctly…” This is an issue. The room that board meets in is long. Members sit at desks arranged in a large U, with the president at the head of the U. They talk across the space between them. People presenting reports or comments use a lectern which faces the U, presenters’ backs are to the audience. The audience sits at one end of the room not facing any of the members or speakers. Thus, it is hard to hear everything that is said.

Plus, school board members have monthly packets of background info on everything they are discussing. Community members don’t have these packets. It’s often hard to understand the issue being discussed. Which makes the “transparency” of the open meeting a lot less transparent than meets the eye.

3. This past week three of the community voices were three women from our congregation. Sabrina Benson, her amazing 6th grade daughter Mira, and Mary Duerson each spoke to the reality of Martin Luther King Day in our district. No special activities are done in the week prior to the event. Education about the meaning of Dr. King’s life and the racism of his era and of ours is not addressed unless a specific teacher does this on her or his own – which would take time away from material they are required to present. Kids are given the day off but with no information about MLK Day events in our community and in Milwaukee. This year teachers were required to attend teacher-training. I spoke to a Waukesha teacher about this event. She said it was okay but nothing particularly special.

The three speakers each spoke to the dismal lack of using MLK Day as a ‘pause’ (Sabrina’s language) for students and teachers to address Black heroes, Black lives, and ongoing racism in our society.

School board members listened politely. Will they consider the remarks when planning is done for next year?

4. Finally. Each board meeting that I have attended has addressed “Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for Town of Waukesha Tax Incremental; District #1.”  Clear as mud? This is what I understand of the issue; and this comes from discussions with other adults in Waukesha, not from Board discussion.  Waukesha is not only a city, included in it but also politically separate from it is Town of Waukesha. The town is looking to welcome a particular business development. Town of Waukesha wants the school district to allow the business development package being offered to this potential builder/developer – to reduce the amount of taxes that would go to the school district.  There are probably logical reasons why this would be good for the town. They are obviously some reasons why it would be not good for the school district. 

Like they say, “Follow the money…”

I don’t have a wrap up to any of this other than I will keep attending.

Waukesha School Board is comprised of nine adults; most appear to be over 50 years old. Of the nine, 6 are white men.  Of the three women, two are white; I think one might be Latina or Indian. Several of these people have addressed me and they were very welcoming.

Three School Board positions will be open in the April 2020 election.






So similar to the school board I used to work under in another midwestern state. As a teacher I became demoralized by deaf ears of those who appeared to trivialize the strain and vast needs of of those in the trenches teaching 135 to 150 young people every day. I went to board meetings, spoke out, got hints of non-appreciation, then retired early. Now that I am 1.5 years out and have had time to decompress and think, I believe school boards must include faculty as members. I haven't figured out a ratio yet....but the school board member selection process needs a revamp. Thanks for attending, writing and sharing your insights!
Mary Beth's picture

This makes sense - that school boards SHOULD include teachers. Otherwise it is patronizing at best and worse at worst. The chasm between adults who think teaching school is "a short day and summers off" and the teachers who do this - that chasm is a gulf. The teachers I know and in whose classes I volunteer - what they carry and attempt to do is just do incredibly heavy.

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