School Board appoints replacement board member

By Tracy Ouellette

Editor

The East Troy School Board voted Monday night to appoint former board president Brian Wexler to the open board seat left vacant when Chris Smith resigned in January.

The vote wasn’t easy with the board deadlocked 2-2 through two secret-ballot votes and two nominations for appointment.

Aside from Wexler, there were only two left who initially applied for the appointment who were still interested – Gina Dingman and Jody Heimos. Former board member Mike Zei took himself out of the running at the Feb. 9 meeting and Andy Szymanskyj also withdrew before the Feb. 23 board meeting.

Dingman is on the ballot for the April 7 School Board seat, challenging Martha Bresler. Heimos was eliminated from that race last week in the primary.

During the public participation at the beginning of the meeting, Terry Dignan and Tim Griffin urged the board to vote for a replacement who had previous board experience because not having a full board was putting the upcoming facility needs referendum at risk, they said.

Griffen took the board to task for its inability to appoint someone at the Feb. 9 meeting.

“It’s pretty embarrassing sitting in the audience and watching the board be so dysfunctional,” Griffin said.

He said it didn’t look good that they board asked the candidates for appointment to attend the last meeting and “see the board sit up there with awkward pauses and now knowing what to do” when it came time to question the candidates and move forward.

“Are you kidding me?” he asked. “Would you really run a business that way?”

Dignan also spoke to the learning curve to get a new board member up to speed and said he was concerned that appointing inexperienced board members would set the district back.

After hearing reports from District Administrator Chris Hibner, Director of Instruction Amy Foszpanczyk and Business Manager Kathy Zwirgzdas, the board turned its attention back to the appointment.

Board members then asked questions of the three candidates.

Lambrechts asked Wexler why he left the Feb. 9 meeting early and was told that it was because Wexler had a prior commitment.

“It had nothing to do with anything other than things I had planned to do,” Wexler said.

Bresler was up next and asked the candidates what they could bring to the board on issues other than the referendum.

“We’ve spent the last three years focusing on the facilities,” she said. “But we have five other goals for the district. What would be your role in supporting and enhancing those goals?”

Dingman said she’s been attending board meetings since the November referendum but the focus has been on the facility needs and she and “I would not know exactly what those five goals are. I would need more information about those five goals.”

Heimos said his only motivation for wanting to be on the board was for the kids. “Whatever I can do to help, I will. I support the referendum. Not being familiar with the other five goals, I couldn’t speak to them.”

The School District’s goals are listed on the front page of the district’s website and at the top of every board meeting agenda.

Wexler, who said he had a hand in crafting those goals during his time on the board, said he would bring his ability to facilitate and work with the board, administration and staff to get things done.

Board member Dawn Buchholtz started her question and answer time by thanking all the candidates for their willingness to serve.

“No matter what happens, I would encourage everyone of you to stay involved and interested,” she said.

Buchholtz said there was about a one-year learning curve for a new board member and she was concerned that appointing a newcomer to a one-year post would not be the best course of action. She even posed a hypothetical question to the candidates, asking if they were an employer and had the opportunity to hire a 12-year veteran or a someone with little experience to the same job for the same money, who would they choose?

“Then you would never allow someone new with fresh ideas on,” Dingman said. “I think new is good.”

She also said it would be a good idea to look at the history of the former board member and how they interacted with the board in the past and consider the dynamics of the board.

“I’ve never felt more bullied in my life,” she concluded.

“You’re right, it’s not an easy position to be in,” Buchholtz said.

Heimos said, as that, hypothetical employer, he wouldn’t want to miss out on what that new employee could do and offer. He also sited his experience as the executive director of Camp Edwards and the work with multi-million dollar development plans and budgets as solid experience for the position.

Hiber interjected at this point and wondered aloud if the board had ever considered going to a seven-member board. While the option wasn’t available to the board Monday night, the board asked Hibner to look into how they could go about increasing the size of the board.

Later in the evening, Buchholtz said she would love to see a seven-member board as soon as possible, “That would have been an easy fix if we could have done it.”

After the secret-ballot deadlocks, the board decided to move to a nomination process. Board President Ted Zess nominated Heimos and Steve Lambrechts seconded the nomination.

The vote was again 2-2 with Zess and Lambrechts with yeses and Buchholtz and Bresler with nos.

After more discussion, Buchholtz nominated Wexler, seconded by Bresler, and the vote was again 2-2, splitting along the same lines with the two woman voting yes and the two men voting no.

At this point Wexler asked for a recess and the board took a 15-minute break. Upon returning, the held more discussion and Buchholtz nominated Wexler again. This time, Lambrechts still voted no, Bresler and Buchholtz voted yes again, and Zess, saying he wanted to move things forward and stating the referendum was the most important thing at the moment, changed his vote to yes and Wexler was sworn in.

 

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