An attempt to reorganize the Menomonie school board — and potentially remove Dan Paulson as board president — did not move forward at a school board meeting Monday.
At a Nov. 12 meeting, several board members criticized some of Paulson’s communication with local organizations, particularly surrounding the subject of the board’s vote to fund the second phase of a new sports complex.
Board member Penny Burstad said she asked to include an agenda item that “could allow the Board to consider electing new officers,” according to the agenda.
“There is a section of us that are not confident in your abilities, and we are not confident in how you’ve behaved as a school board president,” Burstad told Paulson at the meeting.
Several board members brought up concerns with Paulson’s leadership at a Nov. 12 board meeting.
At that meeting, board member David Styer cited an email from a community group, Menomonie Cares. In the email, the group was “disheartened” at the board’s decision to contribute $175,000 to Phase II of the district’s sports complex, a group member said, according to Styer.
Paulson is a member of the Menomonie Cares committee, Styer said.
Styer expressed concern that Paulson was not representing the positions of the whole board to outside groups.
“As board president, you have an obligation, even more of an obligation as board president, to convey our thoughts, if you’re involved with a group like that,” Styer said at a Nov. 12 meeting. “There’s also been other incidents where you’ve worked independently of the administration with (UW) Stout, or other organizations or contacts with families and things like that outside the administration, I think, in my opinion, that undermines the administration when you do that as board president.”
In a close vote in October, the board chose to support the second phase of the district’s athletic complex with $175,000 to go toward lighting and a sound system. Paulson voted against the measure.
“I think there’s a line being crossed,” said board member Penny Burstad.
Paulson said he is asked to report about the Menomonie Cares group to the board’s diversity committee, but would disassociate himself with the group if the board feels it is a conflict of interest.
Burstad said she believes the issue goes beyond Paulson’s involvement with Menomonie Cares.
“When you call Stout or CVTC or the Community Foundation (of Dunn County), you aren’t calling as the whole. We did not discuss as a board (that) we think you should call the Community Foundation and see what’s happening with this money,” Burstad said. “But you’re playing a dual role and you’re not handling it with kid gloves like I feel ... we should.”
At the Nov. 12 meeting, several board members, including Burstad and Heather Klanderman, asked Zydowsky to look into the policy of reorganizing board officers.
Several community members spoke in support of Paulson’s leadership on Monday.
Warren Lang, a member of Menomonie Cares, said Paulson was not involved at all with the group’s letter expressing concern about sports complex funding.
“Dan had no part in that letter, he was not at the meeting in which it was decided to write such a letter (and) he did not participate in writing the letter or review the letter ... this allegation against Dan has no substance,” Lang said.
John See of Menomonie urged the board to not take action on “removing (Paulson) from the presidency of the board” without being open with the public about the circumstances.
“There have been controversies, and one of them I’m concerned about is the conduct of this board right now,” See said.
The board member’s concerns with Paulson seem “relatively hollow,” said Leni Marshall of Menomonie.
“The previous board president stepped down after he was caught in an underage prostitution bust. The board president before that stepped down once she was caught embezzling. Those are some notably faulty ethics,” Marshall said. “I’m wondering if that history might have made other board members a bit too quick on the trigger.”
Former board president Colleen Davis resigned in 2015 after being charged with stealing about $20,000 from the University of Wisconsin Stout; former board president Jay Fahl resigned weeks before he was charged with attempting to hire a prostitute in early 2018.
Arriving at agreement
Burstad made a motion Monday to pursue a vote to reorganize the board’s officers.
The move spurred a debate about the legality of removing a school board president, and if the move would risk future litigation.
School district attorney Steve Weld said the path to removing a board president is unclear, but that a 1979 Wisconsin legal opinion indicated a board could remove its president with a simple majority vote. No court has ever ruled on the matter, however, Weld said.
“It gets a little bit complicated, but by and large, that’s the legal authority,” Weld said. “I would (caution) the board, this is not something that should be done willy-nilly ... this is something that needs to be considered carefully, and gone from there.”
Styer proposed to table the matter indefinitely; the board agreed with a unanimous vote.
Tabling the issue probably does not prevent a board member from asking the matter to be put on the agenda of a future meeting, however, Weld said.
Styer said he remains friends with all the board members and the matter is not personal.
“Things might seem rough, but we’re all passionate about what we believe in and what we want for the district,” Styer said.
After the meeting, Paulson said the board is in “uncharted waters,” without a specific policy to remove a board officer.
“There are board policies we need to take a look at and make some amendments to, if this is what the board wants to do. We have no policy basically that implements this,” Paulson said.
After the meeting, Burstad said she believed the board handled the matter amicably.
“Given that there is a little contention, I think that we handled it well and we’ll move forward from here,” Burstad said.