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Residents turn on New Berlin School District leaders

Pay cut narrowly avoided; complaints leveled against board, administration

Oct. 8, 2012

New Berlin - Frustration over the bruising, emotional year that the state's Act 10 brought to schools bubbled up in calls for reducing pay for New Berlin School Board members at the recent district annual meeting.

With teachers and other employees suffering pay cuts because of requirements to pay toward health insurance and pensions and with nearly all the custodial staff laid off, resident Jocelyn Bubolz called for shared sacrifice from the School Board.

A motion to cut the board's pay failed, 19-17. Another motion to raise board pay also failed, 19-17.

Finally, a motion to freeze pay at $3,500 for members and $5,000 for the School Board president passed, 20-15.

Teachers treated unfairly

Some who had called for pay cuts had more pointed complaints.

For one thing, some said the School Board and administration hadn't treated teachers with respect during upset over Act 10 weakening public employee unions and virtually stripping them of their bargaining power.

But far from disrespecting teachers, the School Board actually was trying to communicate how it values teachers by giving the lowest level teachers $5,000 raises, board member Art Marquardt told the crowd.

"Because we wanted to attract and retain the right teachers," he said.

Another resident complained that it took the district office six weeks to provide information that she requested under the state Freedom of Information Act that requires it to be provided in 10 days. If that doesn't happen, the law requires a written explanation of why the information can't be produced.

Superintendent Joe Garza said after the meeting there were lots of reasons for the delay. There was staff turnover, it was summer, people were on vacation and the numbers requested were fluid, he said.

Board members hard to reach

Another criticism leveled was that the School Board is not as accessible as boards in other communities because their telephone numbers and email addresses aren't provided on the School District website.

Board member Keith Hastings said he's glad his phone number isn't on the website because in his two years on the board, he has had to get authorities involved in three threatening phone calls. But he would be happy to give his number to anyone who asks, he said.

Resident Charles Garrigues countered that he was mayor of another city and had received many death threats. But his phone number was published because it's part of the accessibility that people expect, he said.

"Don't think you can hide from the public," Garrigues said.

But even some who were critical during other parts of the meeting felt that the pay School Board members get is justified, considering the meetings inside and outside the district they attend, the events they go to, the public contacts they have and the time they take to research issues.

"Three-thousand five-hundred dollars isn't out of line," resident Scott Yentsch said.

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