SHAWANO, Wis. (WFRV) – Shawano School District’s new president promises change.
On Monday evening, the School Board elected Mike Musolff as president replacing the previous president Michael Sleeper. Sleeper remains on the school board.
Musolff told Local 5 News that better communication, more support for teachers, and more transparency are his top priorities as he transitions into this new role.
“I plan to bring everybody back together and the way to do that is to include everybody, our staff, our community, and our kids should all have a say in how we do things,” said Musolff.
Local 5 News looked back at the meeting minutes from this school year to see how many district staff chose to retire or resign. Since Sept. 7 (the first board meeting after the first day of school on Sept. 1), the school board has accepted the resignation or retirement requests of 22 staff members across the district. This ranges from teachers to principals.
In March, the School Board also approved preliminary non-renewal notices for several staff members.
As a gesture of support, the school board approved a 4.7 percent salary increase for professional and support staff on Monday. The motion passed 4-3 and was controversial because the district has had issues balancing its budget.
The school district could use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars to cover the salary increase. ESSER Funds are American Rescue Plan dollars provided to school districts to help them get through the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a temporary source of funding so the district wouldn’t be able to fall back on these funds in the future.
However, in an email to Local Five News district finance director Josh Swanson said “the 4.7 percent increase is not funded through ESSER. We are still working through the final numbers for next year.”.
“Fiscally it’s totally the wrong decision but as far as our hearts go we had to do it, the reason for that raise is we care about you (the teachers) and want you to stay here,” said Musolff.
“Without teachers, we have nothing so if we can’t keep qualified teachers here it’s going to hurt us in the long run,” said Sheila Aumann a parent in the district who has been an outspoken critic of some of the district’s decisions.
At that same meeting on Monday, the school board struck down a motion asking for a 2.7 percent pay increase for district administration.
Musolff explained to Local 5 News that they were trying to adjust salaries for inflation for their professional and support staff and because these people get paid less than district administration giving a 4.7 percent pay increase to somebody making $40,000 comes out to less money ($1,880) than a 2.7 percent increase for a district administrator that is making $100,000 ($2,700) in this hypothetical scenario.
Musolff emphasized that the School Board appreciates and supports all district employees and that failure to approve a pay raise for district administration wasn’t indicative of a lack of support.
Local 5 News reached out to a teacher in the district who agreed to give his thoughts on the pay raise on the condition we don’t use his name.
That teacher told us that he appreciated the raise but noted that he doesn’t think it keeps up with inflation. He said the district needed to give teachers a raise to maintain any ability to hire competitively against other school districts.
The teacher noted he doesn’t speak for all the teachers in the district.
Musolff said he is going to make a concerted effort to be more transparent with the community and improve communication. He said his phone number is on the district’s website and encourages people with questions and concerns to call, text, or email him.
Sheila Aumann has been one of the most outspoken critics of some of the board’s decision-making over the last few months. However, she told Local 5 News on Friday afternoon that she likes the shakeup in board leadership.
“I’m more optimistic we have a board that is more representative of our community and is doing a better job of listening to what we are saying,” said Aumann.
The school district is sending out a community survey asking for input on how they should spend money in the future. Musolff said that the school board will meaningfully take into consideration responses from the community.
Parents, teachers, and other community members were very upset in April when then-board president Michael Sleeper chose to limit public comments to avoid redundancy between comments.
Musolff said he’s committed to hearing everybody speak during public comment portions of school board meetings and said he values all of the input.
He does remind people that he will not allow attacks against a specific individual during public comment.
“We are going to listen to the community, the teachers, and the students,” said Musolff.
There are recall petitions circulating to remove the district superintendent Randi Anderson and Local 5 News has been told there are similar petitions being worked on to remove board members. Musolff said while he acknowledges people’s right to sign the petition he hopes that they will give the new-look board a chance to figure things out.
The petition asking for the removal of Anderson has received almost 1,200 signatures.