RACINE — Last week Mike Frontier, vice president of the Racine Unified School Board, brought a commentary he wrote on school funding to his fellow board members for their approval. The commentary is published on the opinion page of today’s paper.
Even some Racine Unified School Board members were confused April 15, as they voted on three motions and engaged in 20 minutes of discussion regarding the commentary.
The final vote on the matter approved forwarding the commentary to the media — specifically The Journal Times — with Frontier’s name and board title attached. That vote was 5-2, with Frontier and board members Julie McKenna, Brian O’Connell, Jane Barbian and John Heckenlively voting in favor and Dennis Wiser and Matthew Hanser voting against.
Board member Michelle Duchow was absent from the meeting. Board President Bob Wittke abstained from voting as the commentary referenced possible legislation at the state level and he began representing the 62nd District in the State Assembly at the beginning of the year.
Several times during the voting process, board members asked for clarification on which of the three motions they were voting on.
The commentary touches on recommendations for reform to the state’s education funding formula made by the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission as well as Gov. Tony Evers. It also details the historical impact of state funding on Racine Unified schools.
“The history of state funding in Wisconsin is an important issue that I think our community needs to understand,” Frontier said.
After Barbian made a motion to approve the commentary, Wiser made an amended motion to postpone the item until the board’s next business meeting, when Duchow and Wittke will be replaced by new members elected on April 2.
“I think we should let the decision be up to them,” Wiser said.
Wiser said he had concerns with the length of the document, saying it was too long at more than 700 words.
“We have to keep these documents short, we have to keep them non-complex, non-technical and very readable if we want the public to pay attention,” he said.
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Wiser also claimed that the April 15 board meeting was the first time the board was given a chance to provide input or to discuss the letter.
“I am very concerned with this letter going out as being representative of the board,” Wiser said.
Frontier countered that the letter was provided to the board during its April 1 work session and added that he invited feedback.
Elizabeth Tobias, executive assistant to the Board of Education, confirmed that the letter was included in the April 1 meeting packet.
The motion to delay the agenda item to the next meeting was defeated 5-2, with Hanser and Wiser voting in favor and Heckenlively, McKenna, O’Connell and Barbian voting against. Wittke again abstained from voting.
Then McKenna made another motion to put only Frontier’s signature on the commentary, and to include his board title. She felt this was important as the document details some of his personal experiences with education funding. Barbian seconded the motion.
Wiser also said he did not think it was right to publish the document under Frontier’s name, as the president is supposed to be the official spokesperson for the board.
O’Connell said he supported the commentary as he said Frontier did the right thing by bringing it for board approval instead of publishing under his own name without running it by the board.
“It is a statement I can support,” O’Connell said.
Hanser said that public engagement was the job of Superintendent Eric Gallien and his team, and felt that if the board was to publish a commentary, it should come from them.
The motion for the letter to have only Frontier’s signature and board title passed 5-2, along the same lines as the final vote to forward the letter to the media.
“This is a historical perspective of school finance in the city of Racine,” Barbian said. “I welcome it. It was a bipartisan letter. It was informative. It was nonjudgmental. It was not trying to persuade anybody any way.”