BY LEE REINSCH
DE PERE — The De Pere Board of Education this week assessed its policy and that of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards regarding board members and public expression.
At the heart of the matter lies the way board members respond to or engage with members of the public, especially via email, social media or other public discourse.
Individual school board members are discouraged from responding to individual inquiries from the public in a way that makes it appear that any individual board member speaks for the rest of the board.
“Board members should, when writing or speaking on school matters on social media, to the media, legislators, and other officials, make it clear that their views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board or of their colleagues on the board,” reads WASB bylaws section 0143.1 – Public Expression of Board Members.
Or, as Board President David Youngquist put it, “We should speak as one voice, unified,” he said. “School Board members serve as a member of the school district’s governing body and do not have individual authority to represent a policy or enforce positions that are not supported by a majority of the Board as evidenced by official action of the Board,” the guidelines state.
In other words, board members shouldn’t speak on behalf of the board or the district unless authorized to do so by majority vote of the board.
When expressing their personal views on board matters or district business, they should make it known that they’re speaking for themselves and not the rest of the board.
Normally the board president speaks on behalf of the board, and in the president’s absence, the responsibility falls to the vice president.
The superintendent also is authorized to speak for the district.
Board members who fail to identify their own views can be censured by the other members and required to make it known they were representing their own views, although they can’t be removed or voted off the board.
Superintendent Chris Thompson said he stated as much to a board member when he first came on board.
Board member Dan Van Straten said people appreciate it when someone acknowledges their email or voicemail.
“I think it is the reason why some people are reelected year after year,” he said.
Board member Brittony Cartwright said she sometimes defers to Thompson when a consensus is needed but worries she’s wearing out her welcome.
“I feel bad, like we’re adding to your workload,” Cartwright said.
Thompson said the job of board members is policy and procedure, not worrying about his work load.
Two new board members, Cartwright and Adam Clayton, maintain public Facebook pages.
Board President David Youngquist said before COVID-19, he received about 15 board-related emails.
“Now we get 50 to 60,” he said.
Most of them are welcome; it’s just the ones that open with ‘Dear Hitler Regime’ that are uncalled for, he said, adding that he chooses not to respond to messages with swear words.