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Members criticize media for revealing exchange of emails

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Posted: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 4:00 pm

The School District of Beloit Board of Education decided during a heated Tuesday meeting to discuss a potential policy on the protocol for inviting legislators to district functions at a future workshop.

Board member Nora Gard had brought up the item as a policy discussion, but Tuesday’s dialogue mainly focused on some members’ frustration with local media and criticism of whoever may be providing information to reporters.

Gard said she asked the topic to be brought to the board for discussion Tuesday because she felt administration was creating a new policy setting criteria for inviting legislators to district activities with an email that was sent out indicating Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, shouldn’t be invited to district events.

Gard said district policy creation is the responsibility of the board, not staff.

“All I’m asking us to consider is we show no partiality to any district legislators for special events or speaking opportunities,” Gard said.

The issue was sparked when an email came to light, sent by school district spokesperson Melissa Badger at the request of Superintendent Steve McNeal, which stated Loudenbeck shouldn’t be invited to district events because of her stance on state-financed private school vouchers. The email went on to say it was McNeal’s view that Loudenbeck does not represent the best interests of students.

Although the “legislative representation” item on Tuesday’s agenda was meant to be policy discussion, as requested by Gard, most of Tuesday’s discussion featured board members Michael Ramsdail, Mark Rand, John Winkelmann, Superintendent McNeal and Assistant Superintendent Lynee Tourdot venting frustrations about the consequences of the email’s publication by the Beloit Daily News. Rand and Ramsdail speculated who may have released the email and how they believed their actions broke down trust and gave a poor image for Beloit.

“What gets put in the paper is harassment,” Tourdot said. “ How do we let these things leak to the paper? I read these nasty things in the paper every week and I think it’s horrible.”

McNeal said he’s an easy target for the Daily News, saying he’s “public enemy number one” for editors and writers and said how the newspaper loves to “punch Steve in the face.”

McNeal, who was joined in the audience by several principals and other supporters from the district, said he considered the leaking of the emails a personal attack on him. He went on to say past boards have chased out administrators and asked if he would be next.

“Do you want to chase me out of here?,” he said. “Who wants to sit in this seat? It’s just a place to get arrows fired at you? And it’s not very fun. For me it’s getting a little personal.”

McNeal went on to say he has been responsive to inquiries, and open and honest about all issues in the district. Although he said he believed the emails were taken out of context he went on to say Loudenbeck hasn’t represented Beloit the way he wished she would have.

McNeal told Gard that one phone call would have prevented the issue from getting overblown.

“We’ve never changed policy administratively. We’ve never banned Amy from any events,” he said.

Gard told McNeal she was concerned that she didn’t get a response quick enough when she inquired about the email about Loudenbeck three times, although she later apologized in the meeting for all that had transpired.

Board Vice President John Acomb said the email was a misstep and blown out of proportion, although he stressed the need to build and maintain bridges with all legislators.

Despite the heated and passionate discussion, all board members agreed that they are still in strong support of McNeal.

Acomb called McNeal the best superintendent the district has ever had. He then told McNeal not to read bloggers’ comments about him.

“I never ever read that crap,” he said.

Board President Shannon Scharmer said the heated discussion was a true opportunity to grow and be stronger as a full unit. She said she was proud of the district, board and McNeal. She said it was healthy to have everyone have an open conversation and air out their feelings and concerns, so the board can move on.

“We are doing great things. We need to continue to excel and exceed our own expectations,” she said.

Board member Missy Henderson said with a little trust and common sense everything would be OK.

Rand said he didn’t understand why the media was in the room at Tuesday’s meeting, and said he was embarrassed to be part of the school board after the publication of the emails. He said he still considered McNeal a friend.

Under Wisconsin state law the emails in question and nearly all government documents are open records required to be accessible to the people, Beloit Daily News Editor Bill Barth said. Likewise, state law requires that nearly all meetings be held in open session so citizens and media can attend. Only a handful of very narrow exceptions are permissible under the law.

“State laws in Wisconsin and, for that matter, all across the country recognize that government at every level operates in the name of the people, and the people have a clear legal right to know what is said and done by all those representing them, elected or appointed,” Barth said. “It is curious, to say the least, that the focus here is on the fact the newspaper told the people what was happening, rather than on what actually was taking place, as if the only consideration is failure to keep a secret from the people. It is our firm belief that government belongs to the people, not to board members or administration or staff. Keeping secrets is not part of that deal.”

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  • FaceTheFacts posted at 5:36 pm on Tue, Jul 16, 2013.

    FaceTheFacts Posts: 327

    1) McNeal has lied all along during his Reign
    2) He was pretty bitter when Milt got the job over him
    3) Beloiter posted about how the kids stood up for him in a prior missed advancement, more than likely from him whining to the kids (playing politician)


    4) The facts? That some people that are put in positions (due to whining or tenure/time advancements) are unable to function as they should, AKA They have exceeded their capabilities.

    And? This is what I see happening.

  • ttl posted at 9:51 am on Mon, Jul 15, 2013.

    ttl Posts: 3

    Well said jdowd and Bucky's Turtleneck. If the BDN were following their own rules they would not print most of this. It is becoming a tabloid with all the misquotes and things taken out of context. This paper is run by a very few "anonymous constituents" who just have a negative ax to grind. Put your energy into something more positive.To the author of this article and the editor, it is very easy for you to criticize everything in our town and then go back to your homes not located in Beloit and not even in the state of Wisconsin. I doubt you would allow such negativity about the towns where you have to live, but very easy for you to do to Beloit where you only work and then go home.

  • jdowd posted at 1:08 pm on Fri, Jul 12, 2013.

    jdowd Posts: 16

    The SDB of is clearly a quality district. What do these issue have to do with education? I do not necessarily agree with all the decisions made by the Beloit School District but I am think the overall direction is pretty good. Look at other school districts around us, they are cutting staff, cutting classes, and opportunities for students. Test scores is not the only measurement of success for education. It was my choice to have my daughter attend Beloit Memorial High School because I felt the education she would get at BMHS would be far superior to the education in Janesville. I have spoken to many in Janesville, including teachers, who look at Beloit as an example at how a school district should be. This continued negativity and bringing forth issues that have no direct affect on education is the biggest hurdle when wanting to improve the district.
    Before my daughter came to Beloit, we heard the comments about Beloit being a "thug' school and my daughter would surely be "knifed" in the school hallway (these comments from those who really have no idea what Beloit is about - besides there own bias- whatever they may be) . Many of these comments causing damage to the Beloit School District is those who post on blogs like this - who are from Beloit - This total lack of civility and just plain nastiness do little to change perceptions of this community. What ever happened to respect and constuctive criticism? Question the actions of elected officials and those in administration but do so in a manner that is an example to our students. I know emotions run high at times and I have, on occasion, made some comments that I shouldn't have made. But when bloggers continue the adversarial and personal attacks over and over, and make no effort to say anything productive or positive, maybe it's time to reevaluate one's life direction.
    Bing Dictionary definition of Ethics - "code of morality: a system of moral principles governing the appropriate conduct for a person or group."

  • beloiter posted at 8:26 pm on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    Government and media is an adversarial relationship. The government has to be an open book and journalists can print information that comes from anonymous sources. The very nature of that dynamic creates tension. What we saw play out between the Board, McNeal and the BDN is exactly how the government/media relationship is supposed to work. Ellsberg v. Nixon. Woodward & Bernstein v. Nixon. The Bush Administration's handling of the WMD in Iraq lie. Obama vs AP. Government vs. Media is the norm.

  • Commenting posted at 5:04 pm on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    Commenting Posts: 7

    "Ethics" as defined by other organizations: "If you wouldn't want something that you did or said to be made public, then you shouldn't do or say it." On the other hand, "Ethics" as defined by the current school district administration, "You can do whatever you want to whomever you want, and if someone finds out, attack them too."

  • Arty0811 posted at 1:10 pm on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    Arty0811 Posts: 42

    McNeal vs Loudenbeck and McNeal vs the Board and the board/mcneal vs the BDN and I guess McNeal vs everyone is all based on the school voucher program.

    Simple solution for the SD of Beloit and McNeal. Provide quality education that is second to none and you wont have to worry about kids leaving for private schools, meaning if you are better than the competition you dont have to worry about losing kids. In many aspects the SD of Beloit is much better than the competition and I would suggest they spend time on focusing how they can be better at all area's.


  • beloiter posted at 11:51 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    "And she did not allow personal feelings or friendships to sway her from performing her duties and doing the right thing."
    Right...because attempting to give constituents more influence based merely on how much tax revenue they contribute is the right thing.

  • beloiter posted at 11:47 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    Well, when the school board president calls him the best superintendent the district has ever had, I doubt termination or resignation are in Superintendent McNeal's future.

  • beloiter posted at 11:45 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    It was my understanding that the policy was that invitations to legislators should be impartial. Now, however, it has come out that board member Gard was behind the scenes pushing for first refusal based on how much money constituents pay in taxes rather than number of constituents in the district. It seems Ms. Gard believes we live under a plutocratic form of government rather than a democratic republic. Fortunately Ms. Gard corrected herself during the meeting. Superintendent McNeal reiterated his suggestion (not policy in any way) that when invitations are made that first refusal is offered to Cullen or Ringhand. I think the meeting was handled adequately. The topic was broad enough that everything that happened in the meeting technically fell under that umbrella. Your gripe is unfounded.

  • woldcats40 posted at 10:39 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    woldcats40 Posts: 2

    They need to end this reign of bad superintendent he should either be fired or resign his position. we would be in better shape as a school district as a whole he has one goal and that is to try make him self look great. Mr.McNeal is a bad asset to the beloit school district thus my opinion.

  • Bucky's Turtleneck posted at 10:26 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    Bucky's Turtleneck Posts: 75

    Thank you Pam for not trying to discredit anything that I said with any other type of counter arguement other than "I'm silly". I'll take that as an acknoglement that you understand exactly what was said at the meeting. As far as what you think Nora's job is, I'll entitle you to your own opinion, she is listening to just ONE constituent......and that isn't enough to get her re-elected.

  • PWC posted at 9:16 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    Silly, as usual, Buckey. You are entitled to your own opinions, but you really should be truthful or get the facts straight. In any case, As Policy Chair, it is Nora Gard's role to bring policy changes or suggestions for new policy to the board. It is also her role, as a board member, to respond to her constituents. That is what she was doing. She acted properly, as a school board member, an elected official, one of seven who are supposed to provide district oversight and supervise the only employee they have -- the superintendent. And she did not allow personal feelings or friendships to sway her from performing her duties and doing the right thing.

    The board discussion went off topic and that is not right. Others may have wanted to be there if they knew what was going to be discussed. This is a violation of open meetings laws. In the future, maybe the board should keep things on topic. The motion to have the board write a policy on legislator participation at school events, clearly was not what the majority of the board discussed. It should have been brought back to the posted topic immediately or adjourned until a later date when it could be handled properly.

    Nora Gard was trying to do the right thing.

  • Bucky's Turtleneck posted at 7:20 am on Thu, Jul 11, 2013.

    Bucky's Turtleneck Posts: 75

    I'm gonna pick and choose and take quotes out of context just like the BDN. But first some facts. Ms. Gard says in the meeting she was frusterated but a "long" wait period after her emails to Mr. McNeal. Lie #1. It took Mr. McNeal 7 hours to reply. Most of those hours were between 11:00pm and 4:00am, so excuse Mr.McNeal for sleeping Nora. In an email response to Mr. McNeal, Nora states that even though Ms. Loudenbeck's district is only a sliver of Beloit, their tax payer dollars are more numerous, and should therefore be weighted more than all those of the rest of the city combined. WOW! Mr. McNeal beriefly eluded to that fact in the meeting but protected her from what should be a disecting and embarassing statement by not fully elaborating. As for the leak to the BDN, it's Nora, or Pam(edited comment as to make sure this doesn't get deleted by Bill, which of course it will). And finally a shot at the BDN, taking one quote from Mr. Rand's praise of Mr. McNeal and the school board, and making it look like he despises his postion on the school board but muscles up enough intestinal fortitude to shake Mr. McNeal's hand is utterly laughable. Editaorial privilage has made you crazy.

  • PWC posted at 10:50 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    What is the current policy, Beloiter?

  • beloiter posted at 10:22 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    They discussed how Nora Gard's contention wasn't actually true and that she just wasn't happy with the amount of time it took for Superintendent McNeal to get back to her. They established that there had been no attempt to set new policy. The current policy was discussed but not changed. I'd say they spent plenty of time on it.
    I will say that the school leadership and the board would be better served to not read whatever a rinky dink operation like the BDN is printing or posting online. All addressing the situation in a public meeting does is insinuate that it deserves addressing. It did seem to solidify the united front that they have established. Perhaps a little adversity was what they needed to make them stronger.

  • PWC posted at 9:47 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    PWC Posts: 770

    The item for discussion, as posted in the board agenda, was "Legislative Representation" -- a little vague, possibly misleading, but nonetheless, the publicly noticed topic was not the BDN, or how best to hide information from parents, teachers and taxpayers, or what type of job the superintendent is doing. This meeting got way out of hand from the beginning. It is the role of the board president to keep the discussion germane. That didn't happen. Legislative representation was the only topic that should have been discussed under this agenda item. As it is presented here, this meeting was not even a legal meeting because they discussed everything but the posted topic. Will McNeal be allowed to ban representatives from school functions simply because he disagrees with them on issues? Who knows. They didn't really discuss it much, did they?

  • Mike_Zoril posted at 8:21 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    Mike_Zoril Posts: 2896

    Beloiter - Are you saying that citizens/newspapers that make open records requests will have it be public knowledge that they made requests or are you saying that any individual that makes one tiny little targeted public records request has to give up all their privacy on everything for the rest of their entire lives?

    I don't think my elected officials should be worrying about circumventing checks and balances like open records requests. Instead, I think my elected officials should only be worried that they are doing a good job and anything they do will stand up to public scrutiny.

    I understand that public officials do things that irritate about half the population no matter what they do. However, I'd rather see them say "Look, I know we disagree on this topic, but I stand by it and here is why..." compared to trying to hide things from the public so they have no accountability. Leaders lead. Cowards try to avoid transparency.

  • Rupert posted at 7:25 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    Rupert Posts: 6

    Steve McNeal thinks "it's getting a little personal"? My, my. I can scarcely contain my glee at his delicious, albeit unintentional, irony. This individual has lobbed so many personal attacks and vendettas at others both covertly and publicly. And he thinks it's personal? Thanks for the chuckle. I do have to take umbrage with Mr. Acomb. Mr. McNeal should read the blog comments. Our thinly veiled anonymity is the only way (without repercussion) for many of us to state that the emperor has no clothes. Mr. McNeal, get thee to a haberdashery tout de suite.

  • woldcats40 posted at 7:13 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    woldcats40 Posts: 2

    I personally believe that Mr. McNeal should resign or be terminated I believe he is more harmful to the school district then helping it at all.He has created a huge controversy with this new school the referendum was supposed to on different land if the community knew their was going to be eminent domain involved it would have been voted down.I personally believe they should have had another vote .The community has no money to begin with and lets build a school we dont need after we just closed a bunch ...hmmm sound real brilliant to me . This voucher system is possibly going to help out .I wish the school district would do a community and an employee vote of confidence for him I would almost guarantee the employees would vote no confidence but this my opinion

  • beloiter posted at 7:07 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    beloiter Posts: 2571

    Perfect way to solve this problem. Any citizen, newspaper or other organization that makes an open records request has their name added to a registry that also makes their communications and records open to the public. Quid pro quo, Clarice. It's no wonder that nothing ever gets done in government. Half the time they're probably figuring out ways to circumvent open records requests. The other half they're sitting around in paranoid silence worrying about open records requests. How much work would any of us get done if anything with our name attached to it was subject to snooping by anybody that knew us.
    I find it pretty encouraging that though it seemed like there was some dissention in the ranks, the school board circled the wagons to praise Superintendent McNeal and criticize the newspaper. They could have just left it at McNeal and Gard working out their issue and then everybody agreeing that the content of the emails wasn't really a big deal. No need to bring the paper into it. I think they were just more irritated by the fact that they can't face the person who leaked the email and chose to take their frustration out on the paper. Mr. Barth getting up on his soapbox and delivering a sermon about secrets was a classic pot & kettle moment given the fact that a lot of hard journalism (this is as close as Beloit gets to that) involves withholding the names of sources. Everybody understands the double standard and deals with it, Mr. Barth. We all know the "deal" as you so condescendingly refer to it. It doesn't mean the board has to get down and lick your boots while you're parading it around in front of them. You threw out the bait hoping for a fractured board and even bigger stories. To your chagrin, I'm sure, the fish weren't biting. Sometimes that's part of the deal.

  • Mike_Zoril posted at 5:43 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    Mike_Zoril Posts: 2896

    “What gets put in the paper is harassment,” Tourdot said. “ How do we let these things leak to the paper? I read these nasty things in the paper every week and I think it’s horrible.”
    McNeal said he’s an easy target for the Daily News, saying he’s “public enemy number one” for editors and writers and said how the newspaper loves to “punch Steve in the face

    In reading this article, all I can do is laugh. The school district honestly thinks they are entitled to hide their communications from their employers, WE THE TAX PAYERS? Maybe the public would be less outraged with the actions of the school district if they treated the members of this community with more respect. Stealing land from innocent home owners? Using deception to pass a referendum resulting in massive tax increases at a time when unemployment in Beloit is at alarming levels? The only people being harassed are the home owners being foreclosed on because they cannot afford their property taxes (and the people at the receiving end of eminent domain).

    On a positive note, I have found that when I brought questions to Steve McNeal or Melissa Badger, they got answered and they do a good job of that.

    I'm surprised that a board member didn't understand why the media is keeping watch on the elected officials. If I was sitting on that board, I'd not only understand why the media is there, I would encourage them to be there along with as many citizens as possible. When the citizens are not paying attention to what their elected officials are doing, bad things happen. Civic involvement in Beloit and nationwide is far too low today.

  • Mentor397 posted at 5:24 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    Mentor397 Posts: 1642

    "They may not support him fully in everything you do..." should read, "They may not support him fully in everything he does..."

    Seriously, I need to spend more time editing.

  • Mentor397 posted at 5:16 pm on Wed, Jul 10, 2013.

    Mentor397 Posts: 1642

    ... The superintendent seems a bit rattled. Here's how it is - when you're the titular head of any organization, you're the one that shots are taken at. It's the way things are. Obama has to deal with it, Walker has to deal with it, even the United States has to deal with it by being a world leader. If you can't handle that sort of attention, maybe it is time to leave.

    That being said, records are an open thing. It's been that way for years now. Email moves almost as fast as the speed of light these days and with the Edward Snowden thing in the news, it should be clear that if there is a record, somewhere, anywhere, it's going to leak. If you don't want to be taken to task for what you've written, don't write it.

    Finally, the emails are important. There are people who will disagree with you. There are people who you will disagree with. The average citizen can often just avoid them when this happens. If you happen to be the titular head of an organization dependent on the body that you disagree with, things get complicated. If the job was easy, they wouldn't be paying so much to have it done.

    Ah, one more thing. I don't coddle the Beloit Daily News. I have serious disagreements with them. They're not the enemy of Mr. McNeal - they supported the referendum he pushed so hard for. They may not support him fully in everything you do, but it's hardly the attack site he thinks it is. It might be time to seek some professional help for this persecution complex he's got going.


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