The Beloit League of Women Voters would like to thank the outgoing members of the Beloit School Board, Pam Charles, Jeff Klett, and Wendy Sanchez for offering their skills and expertise.
We all know there continue to be many difficult challenges facing the new board, and we want to welcome Maria Delgado, Amiee Leavy and Spencer Anderson and to welcome back Stephanie Jacobs. And to returning, more experienced members John Wong, Megan Miller and Kyle Larsen, we expect that you will act upon the following challenges.
The League has members observing and giving reports from nearly every meeting. A quick review shows a number of major challenges remain. Among them are: 1. a lack of communication with the community. 2. Technology, i.e. board website, Spectrum and BoardDocs. #3. A tendency to spend excessive money to handle personnel hires that have resulted in early departures, contract buyouts and then hiring their replacements.
The lack of communication manifests itself first with the School Board website. It used to be easy to find information; it had a list of meetings by date with agendas and minutes. Now you must use BoardDocs, the official place to post meetings, which is difficult to find and use. They only need to post notices 24 hours in advance, so you need to check there daily. The site directs you to call for training on using the site if necessary. That shouldn’t be necessary; it should be easy to use for everyone.
Aside from being difficult to find, BoardDocs is problematic. The agendas appear there 24 hours in advance, but many meeting minutes are missing. The website states, “The remarkably easy-to-use service (BoardDocs) has allowed the organization to maximize the effectiveness of its meetings with increased transparency, providing a basis for better and more open communication with the public, while dramatically improving productivity and saving thousands of dollars annually.” It doesn’t work; too many minutes are still missing and it requires too much staff time to post minutes. Posting minutes was to be simple. How is this saving taxpayer dollars or giving us transparency? Why are we paying for this poor service? Until this is fixed, funds should be withheld.
Meetings themselves are only available on You Tube. The public access channel hasn’t worked since they moved the board meetings to the new Kolak building. As a result, the community cannot view the Board meetings via cable nor can the District use it for educational programming. On April 14, the President of the Board said they have tried, but have reached a “dead end” with Spectrum on this issue. He suggested community members call Spectrum to complain. Although it may be tempting to suggest we withhold funds, that isn’t possible because it would cost them their E-rates status. The Board will have to continue to follow-up on this issue.
Aside from videotaping meetings and posting agendas, little communication with the public occurs. We haven’t seen anything in the newspaper for quite a while. If you write to the full board, you may or may not receive an answer, or maybe a very cursory one from the President, with a few exceptions. Last year sometime, the board had decided that they would speak with one voice and that the President would be that voice. This needs to change now. We believe Board members should feel comfortable answering community questions. Voters elect each one of these board members. They are answerable to voters, not the Board President. When we write to our government representatives, we expect answers. They don’t have to clear it with anyone. That’s how a democracy works.
It is also not easy to discover how educational classes are being conducted now. If you read the Beloit Daily News article titled, Beloit School District launches Online Learning on April 6 published on April 1, which is linked on the district website, it leads one to believe that actual learning started April 6, yet it didn’t start until April 20, which is several weeks behind neighboring districts. According to the news article, they were to be contacting families individually to see if they had internet access or computers to do student work. There has been no update with the community about these results. Four or five weeks is simply too long for a hiatus in teaching. It is so much later than other districts. We are extremely disappointed in this lack of planning and organization and the dearth of information about the education process in Beloit during the “Safer at Home” order.
Finally, many of us in the community are concerned with the amount of money being spent to hire administrators and lawyers, and to buy out contracts. This happened again recently, when Bill Beckley resigned, because the Board President stated for the Beloit Daily News, his job was to “get out into the schools, talk to staff and rebuild trust and communication which cannot be done with the temporary school closures.” This was an unfortunate choice of words. We have to get creative and figure out how to rebuild trust and communication in spite of the virus. The district still needs to rebuild trust and communication with the community as well as the staff. Another missed opportunity.
Indeed, there are numerous challenges the board faces. There is no need to do it alone, though. The Beloit community wants to help. To do this we need to be able to easily find and access accurate good, timely information. We have to move beyond our issues with the past administrations and engage in a process with enough time to do the best job possible. A whole community is here for you. It is our hope that you access their talents and use them wisely.
(Submitted by Susan E. Adams, secretary, on behalf of the Beloit League of Women Voters)