SRO crowd questions school board actions

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Austin Montgomery/Beloit Daily News A standing room only crowd of students, district staff and residents filled the Kolak Education Center for the School District of Beloit Board of Education business meeting Tuesday night.

BELOIT - Weeks of building public outcry over actions taken by the Beloit School District Board of Education came to a head Tuesday night as board members held two meetings.

Amid a standing room only crowd at the Kolak Education Center, the board heard from teachers, the student board representative and residents about several issues facing the district.

Student board representative Lakya Jackson questioned the school board's motives in demoting former assistant superintendent Darrell Williams and the handling of sexual assault claims made by students on a Beloit Memorial High School band trip earlier this month.

Jackson said multiple district staff members had their jobs threatened; raised concerns of job security by current teachers; and questioned the discipline received by two staff members earlier this year for alleged use of inappropriate language.

"If we can place staff on administrative leave for a week for allegations of usage of inappropriate language without sufficient evidence, I think it's safe to say we can provide a consequence a bit more severe than three days suspension for a student accused of assaulting our students," Jackson said. "I can't bring myself to believe that we've continued to spoon feed this trauma to the victims by allowing their alleged abuser in our hallways, our classrooms and our district just days after and refuse to comment on the issue."

During public comments, BMHS teacher Tony Capozziello urged the school board consider conducting a community-wide workshop and planning process to craft a path ahead for the district, a plan he said needed to be in place regardless of leadership or administrative changes. Capozziello noted some teachers he's been in contact with recently have resigned and accepted positions in other districts.

"Without that plan, we're doomed," Capozziello said. "The current five-year plan hasn't been followed and we need to hit the pause button and get together to find a solution. The district needs to do it."

Former school administrator and city councilor Dave Luebke said he felt the district had not followed its own guidelines for discipline in recent years. Luebke also questioned the number of administrators hired by the district compared to other districts like Janesville, noting Beloit was smaller yet had 10 more administrators than the neighboring district.

"We need more teachers not administrators," Luebke said.

Board member Wendy Sanchez was not present at Tuesday's meeting. Board president Pam Charles said Sanchez was on vacation and out of the country.

The board listened as several speakers raised objections, but made no response to any of the issues mentioned.

In other business:

• Newly-elected board members John Winkelmann and Megan Miller, along with incumbents re-elected Pam Charles and John Wong, officially took their seats Tuesday night. Appointed members Nora Gard and Jeff Klett are now off the board.

• The board approved a change order of $176,948 for the district's welcome center project to add an incident command space to handle weather and student emergencies. All funds came from the approved 2019 budget, Charles said, noting the change order wouldn't impact the district's 2020 budget. The center is set to open this fall.

• The board heard from current member Kyle Larsen about his trip to the National School Board Association Convention, with Larsen urging the board reconsider its committee structure after changes made last year have impacted district preparation and work, he said.

• New summer class offerings for K-8 were announced Tuesday.

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