State Sen. Van Wanggaard is not backing away from a bill he and Rep. Tom Weatherston introduced to try and break the stalemate on the Racine Unified Board of Education.
Both lawmakers are Republicans from Racine and Caledonia, respectively.
At issue is the lack of movement on filling the seat left vacant when Lisa Parham resigned in June over allegations that she was ineligible to serve because of past felony convictions that have not been pardoned.
The remaining eight members of the board have been unable to break a deadlock over filling the vacant seat and have voted at least 35 times without any change.
In order to move the board forward, the Wanggaard-Weatherston bill would grant power to the board president – who is currently Pastor Melvin Hargrove – to appoint a new board member in the event of an on-going tie if a decision cannot be reached within 60 days of the vacancy.
Leaders of the teachers union held a press conference Friday afternoon, and accused Wanggaard and Weatherston of over-reaching and trying to impose their will on the district instead of letting voters decide if they want the board president to have the power to appoint new board members.
“As REA president, I am here to say it is very clear to us that while this bill will have a statewide impact, it is directed at Racine,” Jen Levie from the Racine Education Association teachers union is quoted in The Journal Times.
Wanggaard, though, said the bill, “fills a vacant school board seat and breaks a 35-time deadlock on the school board – that is all. There is no hidden agenda. This seat and all others will be refilled again in April.”
In an email to Racine County Eye, Wanggaard’s Chief-of-Staff Scott Kelly said the bill – contrary to claims about removing local control – preserves local control and gives school districts the ability to move forward in the case of a stalemate.
“This isn’t the state dictating a school board choice. This is the state providing a way to break a ridiculous 35-time tie vote. The school board president was elected with the local school board. It’s more ‘local’ for him to select the choice in the event of a 35-time tie than the state superintendent or the RUSD superintendent,” he wrote. “(The president) also doesn’t have to use this power. This just provides a local option to do so in the event of a 60-day vacancy. Senator Wanggaard trusts the locally elected school board president to act appropriately.”
Hargrove told the newspaper that the bill makes sense because the potential for additional tie votes could mean nothing gets done, but board member Julie McKenna said she’d rather see a coin toss or names drawn out of a hat to remove any possible partisanship.
The Wanggaard-Weatherston bill is making it way through Madison for co-sponsors, but could be approved and signed into law by the end of September.