….has utilized barriers, limited public access, insulated/isolated some people, or shut out the community,
Take for example, the District of New Berlin’s lack of community involvement/communication in hiring practices, particularly for its Superintendent. Evidently, public input was deemed unimportant when it meant selecting the person to head New Berlin Public Schools.
“Openness” is not something the District seems to value much. On April 16, when I contacted the District Office and asked if it was true that the District had lost/was losing four key administrators (Tracie Fehrm, Jo Boardman , Blake Peuse and Tracy Hoppe ), District administration refused to tell me. The Human Resources Secretary conveyed that the District did not wish to share that information with the public then. We now know that none of those four administrators will be back.
In spring, parents got wind of some radical changes being considered to the school day and curriculum. The District hastily called a meeting, which was held on a Friday during supper hour. About 300 parents attended. Was the Superintendent or Chief Academic Officer on hand to answer people’s questions? No, that task fell to the Eisenhower and NB West principals, who were inundated with questions for which they had no answer.
During the school year, parents were directed to bring their concerns and questions to the building principals, some of whom won’t be returning in fall. And so, the principals served like “guards at the gate” dealing with the public and helping keep folks away from District Office administrators and School Board members, who seem to be uninterested in being accessible or responsive. Receptionists and secretaries in the District Office screen calls. I left messages and voice mail messages for administrators, but they did not return my calls.
In March, the District held a Special Meeting of the Electorate to obtain voter approval of easements at Ronald Reagan School. The public notice did not indicate what the easements were for or to whom they would be granted. I called the District Office several times about it, but no one would tell me. I contacted the school board but got no reply. I called the mayor and an alderman. Both readily provided information to me. Eventually, I got a response from the District---it came from the District’s lawyer. Yup, District administration and School Board members often chose to hide behind her, creating unnecessary legal bills.
The School Board governs the District. They are trustees of public funds. When Dr. Kreutzer was District Superintendent and Joe Garza, the Asst. Superintendent, I sought information from board members regarding some District expenditures. Guess what? The District’s lawyer told me not to contact the board members! She said I should contact District administration instead. That took some gall. Elected officials are public servants and citizens should be able to contact them. I am a District taxpayer. When I sent District administration a letter inquiring about District expenditures, including the cost of renovating and redecorating the District Office, they ignored the questions. The attorney told me they were not going to answer my questions. Goodness, whatever happened to the notion that schools belong to the people? The District’s evasions and maneuvers, eventually led me to file an Open Records Request to obtain the financial information. The District sent some documents, but the response was clearly incomplete. When I complained, the attorney let me know a District secretary could endeavor to fill my records request but it would cost me a significant sum of money.
The District doesn’t communicate much about its school board members either. Go to the District Website, click on “Board of Education”: you’ll see a photo of each board member (except for Jeffrey Kurth who was elected in April), their position (such as Board President) and term of office expiration dates. Important information, I’m sure. But note the absence of a phone number or email address listed for the individual board members! Instead, the site merely provides a “Contact Board of Education” link. Click on that and you’ll get a form to fill out to contact the entire school board. All or nothing? Hmmm. So, our elected school board officials are using school staff to monitor their emails.
Contrast the minimal information about board members offerred on the District's website, with the helpful Greendale School District Website, which provides an informative biography of the individual board members as well as their phone numbers, email addresses, photo and position.