By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – The school board approved the hiring of a district investigator to help with what administration is calling a significant increase of employee misconduct, discrimination, harassment and bullying complaints.
Teri Willems, executive director of Human Resources, said her department has investigated 85 cases of employee misconduct and has been involved in 23 harassment, discrimination and bullying events or concerns this school year.
“There is a number of reasons that are impacting the volume that has been coming in,” Willems said. “We are really pleased to say as we build trust, and as we build relationships where people feel safe, respected, that they will be heard and that there will be a response that has definitely contributed to the number of concerns we have received.”
The discussion started with trustees split – four in favor of the investigator position and three wanting to reexamine it in July.
“Here’s my concern – if we wait until July, that’s four months, and then it will take awhile to actually hire someone, so you add at least another month, if we vote in favor of it,” said Laura McCoy, board clerk. “Now to get that person up to speed, you’re now looking at maybe September, maybe even later than that, I really don’t know. With that timeline, delaying until July might have a fairly significant impact.”
It ended with a 5-2 approving vote, with Rhonda Sitnikau and Andrew Becker opposed.
“I was really thinking we should wait, but I think the conversation at the board table tonight has really highlighted for me the importance of this,” Trustee Kristina Shelton said. “Again, I see firsthand how this impacted our staff. It is so important that we as a district have fair and expeditious systems in place.”
Sitnikau and Becker were concerned about what they called a lack of supporting facts to back the immediate need for the investigator position, especially with a new superintendent starting this summer.
“I would need more specifics as to what is really happening here, how long are people stuck waiting for investigations being done by the personnel that we have, etc.,” Becker said. “I also think this is something where you talk about adding an administrative position this close to a new superintendent coming onboard, I think it would be prudent to wait.”
He said he would rather postpone the vote than vote no, because he believes it’s an important discussion to have, next year.
Sitnikau worried this position will be seen as a policing system for staff, after receiving multiple concerns from staff noting that very thing.
“I am worried with what Rhonda talked about with the feeling of our staff that it is a policing mechanism,” Shelton said. “So it is important that we get out there with the language, that feeling that we are not coming after you, this is meant to support and protect you.”
Willems said she expects to see an increase in volume of cases, as the district continues to improve its systems.
She said the position is responsive to make sure the district is providing a fair, impartial and timely response.
“Increased numbers of investigations required is moving us forward,” said Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld. “But more importantly, we talked about the need for a person who has a skill set that is different than a human resources specialist. Most importantly, we have a responsibility of more than 3,000 employees, as well as more than 21,000 students and families to protect them and this is what this (position) is intended to do.”
Willems said the district investigator will report directly to her, and she would still be involved in the process.
The position is a 12-month position with a salary rage between $61,921 and $72,001.
When district administration was asked where the money was coming from to support this position, no specific answer was given.