UPDATE 4:15 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17:  School board members Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna will not be attending the school board meeting tonight, according to a joint press release issued at 3:30  p.m.

Wiser and McKenna said they believe there should be more than six board members present.

“The school board agenda for August 17 contains action relating to the RUSD Employee Handbook,” according to the press release. “The language itself is not the issue – no matter how it reads, final authority for all decisions rest with the school board.”

The handbook changes represent a policy change, which — according to the district’s Governance Committee — the district is required to review and recommend to the board and “steps have been skipped,” Wiser said.

Racine Unified School District administrators are calling on them to reconsider that decision.

“We have many important items on tonight’s agenda that require Board approval,” said Superintendent Dr. Lolli Haws. “RUSD staff have worked very hard preparing presentations so that Board members can make decisions to ensure we are on track for a successful start to the school year.”

Original story: Even though two of the eight board members — Don Nielsen and Michael Frontier — are out on vacation, union officials fear the vote won’t go their way since the two have been against making the handbook changes. The union has lobbied to keep the handbook as is for months.

Aaron Eick, vice president of the Racine Education Association, said they have asked board members Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna to either not show up to the board meeting or walk out once the item comes up for discussion. If board members Dennis Wiser and Julie McKenna don’t show up to the meeting or walk out tonight, the board won’t have enough members to vote on the issue.

“They are not committing to it, but they are considering it,” Eick said. “It’s hard…but we’re asking them to do the right thing.”

Calls were made to Wiser and McKenna. Wiser had not returned a call. McKenna said she has not decided what to do yet.

Administrators first proposed changes in April to the employee handbook that included how teachers are hired, pay for extra duties like committees and training, and broadening the definition of a sick day to include caring for a sick child.

Employee unions objected to the changes and the way measures were introduced and insisted the district follow handbook protocol by participating in committee meetings. The school board May 18 narrowly rejected removing from the handbook the section that defines how changes are made.

“The real issue of the day is their vote tonight and they are voting on section 13,” Eick said. “It puts us in a position where they recognize the union as a stakeholder, but the action tonight removes that language. The problem is that they waited to have the vote when two people are out on vacation. These were two people on same side of divide and right now everything else is a distraction until the board meeting is over today.”

School board president Pastor Melvin Hargrove is uneasy with how this situation is unfolding.

“It’s not setting well with me,” Hargrove said. “We’re taking the focus off of the children, which was my main motivation for being on the board…what about the kids?”

Hargrove also said he feels his character and integrity are being challenged when union members say that he’s not being ethical in putting the matter on the agenda in the first place.

“Because of a technicality I pulled it off the agenda last month, but then Mike (Frontier) wanted to talk to the union,” Hargrove said. “I understand people are upset… but I made a decision as a board president that I believed was necessary to do.”

Eick said that if the changes do get made to the employee handbook, the union won’t be treating this as a final decision.

“We’re going to get very serious with collective actions if they remove the language… and sadly this may mean some disturbance to the district,” Eick said, adding that going into detail would be too premature.

“We now have a formal process with district where the union can work together,” he said. “If they get rid of that, the only avenue we have is organizing and acting collectively.  We will join hands with our parents, minority groups, and churches. We will train people on the budget and engage people on what school district is doing.”

The vote is slated to happen at the Racine Unified School District Board of Education meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17 at the Administrative Services Office, 3109 Mt. Pleasant St.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.

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