KUSD adopts employee handbook

chalk-board-KUSDAt a very long meeting of the Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD)  board, the employee handbook was approved by a vote of 4 to 3.  This was after extensive debate by the board.

There was first a motion to defer called by board member Rebecca Stevens.  The roll call vote was 3 to 4.  Those voting against the deferral were board members David Gallo, Bob Nuzzo, Tamarra Coleman, and Mary Snyder.  Then, the roll call vote on the main motion was to adopt, as presented.  The roll call vote was 4 to 3 in favor.  Those voting against were Rebecca Stevens, Jo Ann Taube, and Carl Bryan.  Those voting against said that the reason for their dissenting votes was that they didn’t get all of their questions answered.

Sheronda Glass, assistant superintendent of business services, spoke to the board before their debate started.  She laid out side by side each of the sections of the employee handbook and showed how the 2005 KUSD Personnel Guidebook had the same sections and most of the same policies.  She stated that she was “shocked,” and that it was very surprising to her to hear all of the negative feedback about the handbook.  “Most of these policies have been in place since 1991.”  She also kept stressing that “this is not a collective bargaining agreement.  People are saying that the handbook is not complete.  It is complete.  People are used to a collective bargaining agreement, tenure, etc.  Act 10 left us all in a position to make a decision.  Yes, some things have been added, but they’re there for the protection of all of us.”

Many speakers took the podium for the first hour and a half of the meeting.  The focus of many of the speakers was the employee handbook.

Views and Comments by the Public

Sue Pagliaroni said that she was an advocate for the students.  She was concerned about the number of children in class, the multi-grades in the classroom, the special needs students in the classes, honors classes, the cap on credits, the gag order, and not having a paper on student discipline.  She mentioned the puppet school board members and the fact that the time is coming soon to elect new members.  She was all for the hard working teachers.

Joe Kiriaki, the executive director of the Kenosha Education Association (KEA), said that there had been no meaningful discussion of the review of the handbook.  He suggested sitting down and discussing it with the board.  He stated that “there was no urgent need to adopt the handbook at this time.  Other districts are collaborating.  Just cause, discipline, and termination should be included, just like in the superintendent’s contract.  The KEA requests a meeting and to delay the decision until that meeting occurs.”

Scott Farnsworth wanted to set the record straight.  He said that they did not have input, like it said in the morning paper.  He said that he attended one meeting where they reviewed survey data and options.  President Knapp attended two meetings.  President Snyder said that all groups were represented.  “That’s just like saying that a turkey was represented in the plans for Thanksgiving dinner, how best to serve.”  He stated that he had a good ending, but his time was cut short.

Jill Eckert spoke about the honors distinction program.  She has an 8th grader at Lance Middle School, and she mentioned the overfilled classrooms with varied levels of learning.  She challenged anyone who is not watching out for the best interest of their children.

Gib Ostman, former teacher and board member, stated that Governor Walker did this to all Wisconsin education.  He said that “{the handbook is reaching havoc with teachers.  People will leave in droves.  Teachers are not appreciated like they were in the past.”

Bill Hittman, principal of Lakeview Technology Academy, said that he read the entire handbook, and he has read the handbook of other districts.  He thanked the board for doing something where other districts hired attorneys to write their handbooks.

Aaron Freeman, a sophomore at Tremper High School, called for more resources for advanced students, not “just pushing from the bottom.”  He spoke of “watered-down education” and the fact that there are no consequences for wrongdoing in the schools.  He stated that he has a genuine worry about the future.  He wanted smaller classroom size, and he was pleading for change.

Brandon Felkowski, a 7th grader, called for ability grouping, like last year.  With families in elementary school, and grouping by ability in middle school, it discourages high achievers.

Dan Hunt thanked the last two speakers.  He stated that many KUSD students are undereducated.  “It’s a waste of human potential.”  He said that he supported the employee handbook, even though it was not perfect.  He stated that he thought it was a step in the right direction.  He wanted to see the district treat all classes of employees with respect, and he wanted input from all sectors.  “We all should have the same vision, to maximize the brilliance of all students.”

Greg Retzloff stated that he didn’t think there was anything special in the employee handbook.  “It’s vanilla,” he said.  “There’s nothing different.  People are having anxiety, but there is federal, state law, civil service law, an employee assistance program.  It doesn’t limit the rights of employees.  No one has input on an employee handbook in the private sector.  The union folks are trying to create chaos and use straw man tactics.  It’s not productive.”

Kathy Lusiak said that the employee handbook was disturbing.  Employees deserve better.  She stated that she didn’t see any reason to rush the vote.

Robert Wells, KUSD’s coordinator of fine arts, changed the topic.  He spoke of the play “Dessa Rose,” which was shown to all juniors and seniors across the district last week in commemoration of Kindness Week.  “The product that KUSD is turning out is phenomenal.  We must always think of the kids,” he said.

Varlen Gascoigne wanted to know why his granddaughter was chewed out in front of her class by the Roosevelt school principal for the comments he made at last month’s meeting.  President Mary Snyder asked him to please call Dr. Hancock and talk about the issue privately.

Kyle Flood said that he read the employee handbook, and he thought it would be 100% irresponsible to vote in favor of it.  He said it was incomplete because there were no benefits/salaries mentioned in it.  He was also concerned about the well-being of the district and mentioned an eight-page document he wrote with recommendations for academic strategies and policies, which he named, “My Plan to Put KUSD On Top.”  He provided copies to all of the board members.

Jack Bernthal, executive director of the Racine Education Association, was there to support the KEA.  He stated that “Act 10 undermines the education system, but one thing Act 10 can’t change was the relationship we choose to have with each other.”  He urged the board to keep collaboration going and treat the teachers with respect, and reject the handbook.

Frank Patterson said that he thought the handbook was a slap in the face to teachers.  He said that it scared them, and that it was arbitrary and capricious.  “If you don’t work harmoniously with others, you can be fired.  Teachers are running scared.”

Jarred Sturich, a seventh grader, spoke about honors classes and groupings of classes.  He said that students act out in class, and that it was not working very well.  “My brilliance is not being maximized,” he said.

Thuy Patterson gave an emotional plea.  She said that she didn’t feel appreciated as a teacher.  She read a poem called, “Results and Roses,” and said that teachers feel like dirt.  She said that her passion for teaching has been sucked out of her.

Mike Fricassi spoke about the honors program.  His son Brandon, spoke earlier.  He took pre-algebra in 7th grade, and had to take it again in 8th grade.  He is not learning anything new.  Course work is not challenging.  He stated that elementary school students were being grouped by ability; why not in the middle school?

Sonny Hilton-Stanley spoke about seniority and unions.  “Seniority kept me here.  This job offers stability and continuity.”  She stated that she was not asked about her input regarding expeditionary learning or the family system, even though she had experience with both early in her career.

Ann Knapp, president of the KEA, spoke about her service on the Calendar Committee.  She stated that she was made to believe she was part of it.  She never received a copy of the calendar.

President’s Report

Mary Snyder talked about Kindness Week events, and the fact that change needs to start with the adults in the audience.  She gave an overview and timeline of the work on the handbook, which started in August of last year.  She stated that 1,707 KUSD employees took the survey and provided feedback.  Sub-committees were formed, and reports were provided to the board.  Attorney Susan Love made changes to the handbook after every meeting.

Superintendent’s Report 

Hancock wanted everyone to look to the future, 2013/2014.  She said that they would be adding resources for the first time.   “We are not in worse financial shape, but better than we were two years ago.  We made $61 million dollars worth of budget cuts in the last two years.”  She stated that other changes would be coming, like removing the requirement for high school students to take seminar.  An eight-block day was no longer necessary, but a full instructional day would be re-instituted.  They are going to eliminate the credit cap, redesign classes, and have year-long match and science.

In the middle schools, they will be introducing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) course.  They will partner with Gateway on “Project Lead the Way” to supplement the curriculum for accelerated learners.  They will continue Algebra I for all eighth graders, and pre-algebra for seventh graders.

In the elementary schools, they will be reducing class sizes, maintaining Rosetta Stone, a multi-age, family structure which will accelerate learning for all.  “But, we need funding,” she said.  With Tony Evers’ Fair Funding Proposal, we hope to add positions where needed.  “Organizations grow and change.  Schools need to be different.  All of us need to understand the budget.  We all want the same things.  Hard decisions had to be made.  We need to continue to move forward in a positive and pro-active manner,” she said.

Consent Agenda

The items on the consent agenda were approved unanimously:  the recommendations concerning appointments, leaves of absence, retirements, and resignations, and the minutes from previous meetings.  Board member Carl Bryan wanted the third item, the summary of receipts, wire transfers, and check registers, pulled.  It was then dealt with at the end of the meeting.  He was questioning payments made to a consultant.

Old Business

A resolution opposing voucher expansion was approved unanimously.  Nuzzo said that he is planning to hand deliver the resolution to Madison.

The policy and rule regarding access to public records was, according to Sheronda Glass, taken verbatim from the state statute.  This first reading was also approved unanimously.

Kris Keckler, executive director of information and accountability, provided information on open enrollment.  Next Monday, February 4th, starts the window for open enrollment.  This policy and rule was unanimously approved.

Patrick Finnemore, director of facilities, fully supported the termination of the Simmons Field lease and the sub-lease with the American Legion.  This was also unanimously approved.

New Business

Keckler stated that the district is taking a conservative approach to open enrollment allocations for the 2013/2014 school year.  There were 111 applications last year.  By mid-summer, it was down to 78 students, and on the first Friday counts, only 14 students had actually enrolled.  “It’s a gamble,” he said.  “We assign staffing allocations based on this.  There is more uncertainty because the window has been expanded from three weeks to three months.”  This was approved unanimously by the board.

There was much discussion on the employee handbook, which was very briefly summarized at the beginning of this article.  Board member Bob Nuzzo made the motion to approve, even though he stated that it “disturbs him greatly to see one of our valuable resources, our teachers, disturbed.”   He also stated that handbooks never include wage or any specifics on health benefits, and that this was not a labor contract.  “This is how you are supposed to act in front of kids and how you are to treat people.  This is a good product,” he said.

Board member Tamarra Coleman said that she was not aware of the guideline book, and she asked for a copy so that she could do her own comparison.  She asked about the job posting system and personal searches.  Board member Jo Ann Taube asked about searching personal cell phones and vested interests in retirement.  Glass responded that they are not taking any benefits away.  Any changes in health care benefits, etc., would have to come to the board for approval since they were based on the budget.  Snyder did her best keeping people within their five-minute and then three-minute periods of time to speak.

Board member Rebecca Stevens wanted to add the school board to the part about being responsible along with the superintendent.  She also wanted to add “bullying” to harassment.

Board member Carl Bryan echoed his sentiments on the process.  He wanted to put off the vote until the health care bids had gone out.  He also stated that the end of the window for retirements was March 15th.  “If a person is 55, we’re doing an injustice to them to not provide the chance.”  Glass countered that people already have a glimpse of how much money they will receive in retirement.

Bryan said it was frustrating.  “We are the board of directors of the largest employer in the county, and I want to err on the side of transparent communication.”  He said that he didn’t feel that they met with employees enough.

Board member David Gallo said that he got all of his questions answered, and he gave his time to Taube.  She said that she thought that the committees put together to work on the employee handbook were just “window dressing.”  She said that they had no real involvement.  She thought it would make it easier for employees is there was some cross-referencing of things.  She was cut off from any further remarks due to time.

Coleman said that she felt involved in her work on the Staffing and Classification Committee.  Bryan said that the board was accountable to the public, and he wanted more time to review it before being pushed unilaterally.  Glass said that the board has a responsibility to make sure that their hands are not tied.  That is why the details are omitted.  Bryan said that he wanted to fulfill the mission statement to the district, not strike fear.  He didn’t want to push on the first reading.

Stevens agreed with Bryan.  She said that yes, this was a public entity, not a private one.  Taxpayers want to be informed.  Accountability is the bottom line.  “It deserves more discussion.  Why can’t we take time?  Why form the committees when we didn’t use the information?”

Snyder commented that we need to start moving forward with Act 10.   “We have lots of other work to do.  Benefits have to be sent out to bid.  We need to discuss salaries, etc.  We need to start with this completed.”

Nuzzo then moved to end the debate and call the question.  He was then the last speaker.  He said that this is a new direction for the school district, and that they had a superior superintendent.  He stated that the handbook will help us.  Stevens stated that she didn’t feel that she got all of her questions answered.  Taube wanted to know if the motion was debatable.  She was told it was not.  It was a simple majority vote, and the vote to end the debate was 4 to 3.  Those voting against were Stevens, Taube, and Bryan.  The other two voted are mentioned above.

After the votes, the donations to the district were then read by Snyder, and the meeting was adjourned.

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