OCONOMOWOC, Wis. — Three Oconomowoc Area School Board members have resigned together, citing toxic behavior within the board.
Rick Grothaus, Dan Raasch, and Kim Herro announced their resignations effective immediately in a letter Monday.
They said, "The OASD Board has now been dragged into partisan culture wars by some members of the board." They added, "because of the dysfunctional and disrespectful behavior of the remaining board members and interim superintendent, board work has become toxic and impossible to do."
"We felt this was the only option we had left, to send a message to the community that the community needs to take a closer look at what's going on in their local school board," Grothaus said in an interview.
Grothaus went on to say these challenges within school boards are happening across the country, and Oconomowoc is a microcosm of the larger issue.
"We're at a point on a larger societal level when issues, when things like public health, public safety, education of our children become political footballs. It's kind of a scary time for us all," Grothaus said.
The letter cited concerns about the response to the pandemic, but Grothaus and Raasch said that is just one of the issues.
"Any opportunity to think creatively, to offer solutions to approach education differently, is totally shut down," Raasch said.
In response to our request, the school district's interim superintendent sent a statement saying: "Public service is a difficult endeavor that has been exacerbated by the current division in society as a whole."
"While the timing and orchestration of these resignations have taken away from our work to get our schools open, safely operating, and focused on our strategic plan, I am confident in the remaining school board members and their commitment to our students and families," according to the superintendent.
The OASD School Board president said they will talk about the policy for filling these vacancies at their board meeting on Wednesday.
Read the entire resignation letter below:
Dear Oconomowoc Area School District Community,
After great deliberation, it is with a heavy heart that we, Kim Herro, Dan Raasch, and Rick Grothaus, have all three decided to resign from the OASD School Board. Our desire was to help the School Board become a high functioning governing body in support of the incredibly important work of teaching students and helping them grow into healthy, productive, capable, and caring adults. Unfortunately, we believe that the current Board president, vice-president, remaining board members, and interim superintendent makes it entirely impossible to accomplish that goal because of their unwillingness to collaborate in good faith.
School Board work is supposed to be non-partisan. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The OASD Board has now been dragged into partisan culture wars by some members of the Board and the narrow, minority hyper political group to which they have identified and by whom they are influenced. As a result, we are prevented from engaging in important Board governing work. We are also very concerned about how the current interim superintendent and remaining board members are responding to the pandemic. Since there is no ability to engage in meaningful dialogue, even on the issue of the health and safety of our students and staff, we cannot be part of an organization that is so non-responsive to every constituents’ concerns, not just a minority segment, and is so cavalier about our students’, staff’s and community’s health and safety. Also, because of the dysfunctional and disrespectful behavior of the remaining Board members and interim superintendent, Board work has become toxic and impossible to do. Therefore, we choose to no longer be subjected to the negative, noxious effects, especially when we are not allowed to engage in any meaningful work to improve the Board and our schools.
There is enough insulation between the Board and the classroom level that teachers can continue doing their good work for kids. Hopefully our community will rise up and demand to hire a quality superintendent who can provide enough positive leadership to overcome the current state of leadership for the district. We don’t believe that people want our community to be characterized by the divisive, bullying, selfish, partisan tactics that seem to be so prevalent today. Instead, we firmly believe that the vast majority of people living in our community value respect, decency, thoughtful collaboration, common courtesy, consideration for others, and caring for the common good. We hope the time will soon come again when it is possible to work together collaboratively for the good of our community and its children and stop letting the distractions and personal political agendas take us off that course.
Read the OASD interim superintendent's entire response here:
“I want to thank our former school board members for their service to our students, families, and the district. Public Service is a difficult endeavor that has been exacerbated by the current division in society as a whole. Our school board has been divided over the past couple of years and the majority shifted with the election last April. Last year they had to lead through difficult COVID issues and then received the resignation of a long-time successful Superintendent.
While the timing and orchestration of these resignations have taken away from our work to get our schools open, safely operating, and focused on our strategic plan, I am confident in the remaining School Board members and their commitment to our students and families.
The OASD School Board Policy 133 explains how vacant seats are to be filled. Interested residents of our school district will be asked to submit a letter of application to the Board. Those candidates will be afforded an opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the candidacy and explain their purpose in seeking a position on the Board. The Board will vote then to fill each seat. The selected candidates will fill the seat through the rest of the term for each seat. One seat is up for election in April 2022. The other two seats will be open in April of 2023.”