Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Legislator files open records request with Fond du Lac School Board

Thiesfeldt takes issue with school voucher ad

May 15, 2013
 
Elizabeth Hayes
Elizabeth Hayes / Patrick Flood
Jeremy Thiesfeldt

More

A state legislator says the Fond du Lac Board of Education did an “end-run around a transparent process” when it published an ad Sunday opposed to the school voucher program.

To that end, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, a vocal proponent of vouchers and a former parochial high school teacher, has filed an open records request with the Fond du Lac School District.

School Board President Elizabeth Hayes says in no way did the Board violate open meetings laws.

“We had a workshop that was public. It was announced and open to the public,” she said.

During that workshop board members present reached consensus to move forward with placing the information in the newspaper, Hayes said.

She said the ad published Sunday, May 13, in Action Advertiser is a slight variation of information that has been circulating for weeks and that had been presented to Thiesfeldt by the district.

Hayes said she and Superintendent of Schools James Sebert also have met with Thiesfeldt several times to talk about voucher expansion and other school-related issues.

In his open records request dated May 14, Thiesfeldt seeks copies of all emails and correspondence related to advertising on school choice, school vouchers or vouchers. He is seeking information and correspondence between Feb. 20 and May 14.

Thiesfeldt said the board should have published a notice that it was going to discuss placement of an ad at the workshop session. He said that way people would have had an opportunity to address the board on the issue during that meeting.

Since no record of a vote exists, Thiesfeldt said, it isn’t possible for the public to know how individual board member’s stand on the issue. If the item was not on the agenda, he said, it should not have been discussed and acted upon.

Superintendent Sebert said the district hasn’t violated open meetings. He said the board did not vote in the workshop and doesn’t have to vote to be able to place an ad in the newspaper.

Hayes said the board did approve using taxpayer money to publish the Sunday ad, but that is because the board felt it was important for the public to see the information before the proposal is acted on in Madison.

“We feel comfortable that the information in that ad is correct,” she said. “It was developed with other school districts and the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.”

The board’s concern, Hayes said, is that the voucher expansion proposal is buried in the 1,100-page state budget. A resolution tabled Monday by the board asks that vouchers be removed from the budget so more discussion can take place.

Hayes said the board feels strongly that the community’s taxes should not be used so parents can send their children to private schools.

Vote delayed

Given an opportunity to go on record in support of a proposal to remove voucher expansion from the state budget, Hayes elected Monday to postpone the vote before the board.

The decision was driven mainly by the numbers, or lack thereof, of board members who attended Monday’s meeting. Only four members were present for the 4:30 p.m. session: Hayes, Mark Strand, Mark Jurgella and Susan Jones.

Members Julie Nett, Kathleen Nagle and Eric Everson were not seated for the meeting — although Everson was standing in the hallway while the board discussed the proposal.

Everson said the board was in the midst of discussions when he arrived at the district administration building and as a courtesy he did not want to walk in and disrupt the meeting. He said he had informed the administration he would not be able to attend the regular meeting but would be there for the closed session and workshop.

“It has always been my practice to walk in at the breaks,” he said.

Everson noted he supported the board’s stance on the resolution “and I always will.”

Postponed

“You may want to postpone this,” Jurgella said when the board began discussion on the resolution. “I don’t think four members should speak for the whole board.”

Jurgella said he supports the resolution, or most of it, but didn’t think it was right for less than the whole board to vote on something so important.

Hayes said the board discussed the resolution in depth during a recent workshop session and all members present agreed to move forward with the resolution. Jurgella was not in attendance at that session, she said.

Hayes, who ultimately made the decision to table the resolution until the board’s next meeting, said the board needed to act with some urgency on the issue because voucher expansion likely will be decided at the state level before the end of the month.

Jurgella said he also was concerned that some changes at the state level — the additional monies that have been discovered and their impact on school budgets — may impact the voucher proposal and its viability.

Hayes pointed out that the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, whose information was used by the board to print the Sunday ad opposing expansion of vouchers, is in support of this resolution. The WASB, she noted, was split 50/50 when it came to support of Act 10, the legislation that took away bargaining rights of public employees.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Sebert, arguing in favor of considering the resolution Monday night, said it was important the public, school district staff and their families know the board doesn’t see expansion of the voucher program as a step forward.

Public voucher support

Prior to Monday’s meeting, three members of the community, including Thiesfeldt, spoke in favor of the expansion of vouchers to Fond du Lac.

Sean Twohig of Fond du Lac, who sends his children to St. Mary’s Springs Academy, told the board the district was lying about the impact of school choice. He urged the board to reconsider its position.

Twohig told The Reporter if a child is not being served by the public school system, that family deserves a choice. Parents who can’t afford to send their children to private schools — including Winnebago Lutheran Academy or St. Mary’s Springs — would have options under the voucher program, he said.

He said personally he would not take advantage of the money the voucher program affords families because he is “blessed” to be able to afford to send his children to Catholic education.

Ron Schmitz of Fond du Lac, who noted he also sent his children to parochial schools, said those who do that actually save the district millions of dollars.

“It’s a lie to say this is going to increase taxes,” he said.

Schmitz demanded an apology from the board and a retraction printed in the newspaper.

Hayes said the board was comfortable with the accuracy of the information printed in the ad.

Peggy Breister may be reached at pbreister@fdlreporter.com or 907-7912.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
15%
576 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
23%
856 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
27%
1017 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1271 votes

Catch up on the latest in our pregame show every game day.

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports

ORDER YOURS

Football fans

If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports