Hortonville School Board questioned about resignations
By Scott Bellile
This week’s Hortonville School Board contained less argument and was shorter than the last by an hour-plus, but parents again attended with concerns over the district administration’s transparency.
Several dozen audience members attended Monday, July 11, two weeks after parents argued with the board over allegations that Hortonville Middle School teachers are bullied by their higher-ups.
Gabriell Laughlin, the sole speaker during Monday’s public comment portion, asked if the district conducts exit interviews to gauge why employees quit. She said, “We are having so many teachers leave our district.”
Paul Thome, school board president, said outgoing employees can arrange an interview with District Administrator Heidi Schmidt or fill out a comment form. He added the board publicizes names of resigning teachers in the board packet and includes in there any resignation letters it receives, which are open record.
However, the district doesn’t make available at board meetings supplementary materials beyond the agenda, including resignation letters and memos, to the public. It also doesn’t have a public website with those materials available for free like districts such as Appleton, Neenah and Clintonville do. Members of the public can make open records requests through the district office for 15 cents per page.
Laughlin told the Press Star after Monday’s meeting she wishes to see the board packet more available to the public.
Before the board motioned to adjourn, board member Craig Dreier asked HASD attorney John Thiel if the district has received harassment complaints from staff related to the alleged bullying situation at HMS. Thiel responded no and he wouldn’t discuss it during the meeting.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Wisconsin Open Meetings Law compliance guide, a governmental body cannot discuss topics that aren’t listed in the public notice, or agenda, for the meeting.
Thiel answered Dreier’s question about who the district’s compliance officers are, then the board adjourned. Audience member Tammy Thyssen then addressed the board from the back of the room.
“We’re all here as a community and we’re not getting any answers … There’s resignations on here and we don’t know, and you won’t even talk about them … No wonder why the community doesn’t show up to these board meetings. You don’t tell us anything,” she said.
Thiel replied, “The meeting’s over everybody, so just—”
“Ignore me, thank you,” Thyssen said.
“We’re not ignoring you. The meeting’s over, ma’am,” Thiel said.
Thyssen told the Press Star afterward she doesn’t feel there’s enough discussion when the board votes on agenda items. She said she also felt Dreier got shot down when he asked about harassment complaints.
After the meeting, parents said they didn’t feel they received proper notice about another motion that was passed, to eliminate an after-school activities bus route.
The route elimination was on the June 27 and July 11 agendas. The board discussed it July 11 for about 12 minutes, after most of the parents who attended for public comment on the bullying allegations had left.
Dreier asked to table the vote until July 11 “to be transparent” and to provide the public time to ask questions. The board tabled it. Nobody asked questions during Monday’s public comment portion.
In regards to resignations, the board approved three: Hortonville High School paraprofessional Connie Byom, HASD bus driver Deanne Smith and Hortonville Middle School eighth grade social studies teacher JoAnn Sutton.
Thome told the audience at the June 27 meeting the board won’t discuss personnel matters in open session.
The board will next meet Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at HHS board room G135.