Abdication: Elimination or Vindication?
So, did the Mequon-Thiensville Board of Education abdicate their duties to the Superintendent?
Why are we answering the question? The reason for the recall as stated on the Recall Petition was “Abdicating office holder duties by giving away board member rights to an unelected official.” Note, we understand to recall an officeholder in Wisconsin, you actually don’t need a reason, but it was on the Recall Petition form.
To answer the question, let’s go back and understand how we got here.
Spring 2020. Corona Virus becomes a household word (later it morphs into COVID-19)
Summer 2020. Parents are waiting to find out what’s going to happen with school openings. MTSD is planning its own response while waiting for guidance from the Ozaukee Health Department, which never comes.
Why was MTSD waiting for guidance from the County? ANSWER: They were following Policy 8450-Control of Communicable Diseases, which had last been revised in June 2017 (there was a revision again in August 2021). Excerpt: “In partnership with state and local public health officials, the District will establish and maintain appropriate health standards for the school environment…”
Who makes policy? ANSWER: The Board of Education. It is arguably one of the most important responsibilities of the School Board. See the Responsibilities here: https://www.mtsd.k12.wi.us/board/school-board/community-engagement
August 17, 2020. Regular School Board Meeting.
Discussion. There was a Discussion Item on the Agenda about “MTSD Responsible Return Operating Plan,” which was presented to both the Board of Education (BOE) and the public for the first time. Later in the Agenda was an Action Item to “Approve MTSD Decisions Framework for Instructional Scenarios.”
This was an unfortunate rush. Typically, presentations are never voted on at the same meeting, but because of the wait for the Ozaukee Health Department, this was the last minute. School was starting soon.
Board Vote. The BOE voted unanimously to approve the Framework. But people forget, the second part of the vote which “authorizes the Superintendent to adjust the framework as new information becomes available.” In essence, the Board voted to let the Superintendent determine how to handle COVID in the District. As you will see next, this was really a non-vote because the Superintendent already had authority to create the framework.
Was this an abdication of their duties to an unelected official, namely the Superintendent?
Policy 8450- paragraph three explains: “The Superintendent or designee will serve as a liaison between the District and local and state health officials and will develop administrative guideless for the control of communicable diseases.” This policy was created by former MTSD school board members. View it
Okay, so the Board followed their own policy, but was the policy legal?
The Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials Foundation put out information for school districts which included an answer to the question whether a school board may delegate authority to a Superintendent for mitigation strategy. Their conclusion was Yes and referenced related State Statute. They wrote, “… a school board has the ability to establish policies and rules, such as a rule delegating mitigation strategy decision making to the district’s superintendent.” This is Question 3, view it here: https://www.wasbo.com/images/WASBO/Documents/6/Handouts/2021-08-27-QA.pdf?_zs=bDu2c&_zl=AUij2
What about MTSD's legal counsel? They state very clearly, "There is nothing illegal or contrary to statute with your District's governance model. The Board has the power and discretion to delegate management and rule-making to the District Superintendent...."
Finally, the results from our totally unscientific straw poll: The input was light but leaned heavily (tipping over actually) toward no abdication of duties. Thank you audience for your participation!
If there is another organization or legal opinion out there with a different view of State Statute and abdication of duties, please send it to LetsGo@InformMT.org and will add it to this post. If there is different board action that implies abdication, please let us know. Similarly, if there is something misquoted, mistyped, misstated or misleading, please send an e-mail too with your suggested correction. INFORM’s goal is to Inform MT because an Informed Community is a Great Community!
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