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Green Bay school board appoints Laitinen-Warren to vacant seat

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – The Green Bay school board will once again be at full strength after trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Laura Laitinen-Warren to fill the board’s empty seat at a special meeting Monday, March 1.

“It certainly takes a lot of courage to apply to be on the board of education,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, board vice president. “It takes even more courage to be a part of the interviews tonight. And as we all know, it takes a lot of courage to sit at the board table. Very fortunate that we had the number of community members reach out and apply.”

Trustees held live-streamed interviews with eight finalists, each lastly about 20 minutes.

Nine applicants were selected for interviews, but one candidate withdrew her candidacy prior to Monday’s meeting.

Laitinen-Warren was chosen quickly after receiving high praise from several board members, some saying they were impressed with her grasp of the district’s current reality.

“I liked that she noted and recognized the roles of schools beyond education has become evident (amidst the pandemic), and the value of public education,” said Trustee Rhonda Sitnikau. “When it came to school board roles, she noted accountability, as well as budget responsibility – where are the resources going? I thought that was very important as well and she recognized that.”

Board member Laura McCoy noted the smooth transition Laitinen-Warren could make to the board.

“She has a lot of really stellar experience,” McCoy said. “We need someone who can transition quickly. We don’t really have the luxury of a lot of time, and I feel like she can do that.”

Trustee Dawn Smith said Laitinen-Warren’s appointment brings balance to the board.

“Her commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, I think, she brings some things to the table that fill a gap for us,” Smith said. “And I look at the members of the board. Eric, I think you live in the Preble quadrant. Rhonda, Andrew and I are all in the West quadrant, and Brenda and Laura are in the East quadrant. We don’t have any representation from the Southwest quadrant. Our schools are all very different and I do think it’s important that we have representation at the board table for all our schools, quadrants. That was something that played a part in my decision.”

Laitinen-Warren said she has always had an interest in serving on the board, but it hasn’t worked out until now.

“I feel I have well-rounded experience in education to bring (to the board),” she said. “I have a commitment to life-long learning, and have a certain level of professionalism that I will bring to the board. I think I would bring a good perspective. I’m eager to do my part, to try and contribute and support the direction of the district.”

Most recently, Laitinen-Warren served as a senior policy adviser for the Chairman’s Office of the Oneida Nation, before stepping away to assist her first and fourth graders navigate virtual learning through the district.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently working toward her doctorate in educational leadership.

Laitinen-Warren fills the seat left vacant by Kristina Shelton, who resigned from the school board Jan. 15.

Shelton was elected as representative to the 90th Assembly District in November.

Laitinen-Warren took the oath of office Tuesday, March 2, and will begin her duties as trustee at the board’s next regular board meeting set for Monday, March 8.

She will serve until April 10, 2022.

Other standouts

There was also strong support for candidate Jessica Franco-Morales.

However, her work with the Northeast Technical College (NWTC) as a career counselor in one of the district’s schools served as a conflict of interest.

“I’m very, very torn about Jessica,” said McCoy. “I’ll just be really honest, this is a real blow.”

Melissa Thiel Collar, the district’s legal counsel said Franco-Morales’s work with the district falls under the incompatibility of office doctrine.

“The opinion of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards is that the two offices are incompatible,” she said. “So when you take the incompatible office, then you automatically vacate your other office. So if she were to take the oath of office for the board position, she would automatically vacate her position with NWTC.”

Vanden Heuvel said Franco-Morales was made aware ahead of time of the potential conflict.

“We made her aware that the state ethics commission would make the final decision, and if she wanted to reach out to them ahead of tim,e she could,” he said. “There probably wasn’t enough time by the time I let her know about that today, probably wouldn’t have gotten a ruling back in time.”

Though Trustee Andrew Becker supported Laitinen-Warren’s appointment, he said he hoped the board would have chosen someone who had more of a connection to special education.

“I was really hoping that we might be in a position to take someone who has firsthand, not just advocacy, but firsthand experience with special needs students,” he said. “Because a parent of a special needs student, who we’ve often talked about wanting that perspective, or at least I have, and I’ve heard it before from other people as well, who’ve actually had to navigate the system, which can be complex. That’s why I had stressed other candidates more. That being said, I certainly think Laura would be a good advocate for various communities.”

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