Blatant transparency should guide decisions

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

At this time last year, the Shawano School District was in a crisis situation. Without launching into a detailed timeline — as most of us almost know it by heart by this point — the schism of trust between the administration/school board and the community was broadening.

One year later, there’s a different superintendent, and a majority of the school board members are brand new as the old guard resigned or was voted out. Because of the mass exodus of staff, the district started the school year short-staffed in many areas and looking at ways to run four schools without the needed people to keep the buildings safe and continue educating unobstructed.

Staff shortage aside, administrators and board members are struggling to find a path to rebuild the trust with the public again. The consistent viewpoint on Randi Anderson was that, as superintendent, she kept the public in the dark on the district’s financial situation until it reached a place where unpleasant decisions had to be made. Kurt Krizan is now the district’s leader, and understandably any plans to rebuild he comes up with are meeting with skepticism — not because no one trusts him, but because the district has issues trusting itself.

That was obvious at the most recent school board meetings, where the question came up about whether the board should flesh out proposals at the committee level and then bring matters for a vote, or whether the board should just listen to the proposals as a single unit at the board meeting, discuss and come up with a decision.

The smart money seems to be on the latter proposal. It can result in longer board meetings, but at the same time, it puts the discussions in the public eye, because the board meetings are recorded on video live via YouTube. Committee meetings are not on video, and that’s where much of the discussion happens where board members examine proposals in detail and ask the questions necessary to make sure we’re not going to end up where we were last year, making decisions about which staff to cut and mulling the possibility of closing a school.

The board broke away from the committee structure for a time after five board members resigned last summer. Having everything aired before the board resulted in some lengthy meetings to be sure, but at least the public was able to see that the board was not just rubber stamping the ideas of Krizan and his staff and having some healthy discussion before voting yes or no.

Recently, the committees came back, with items being discussed there before going for the second hurdle — the school board — for formal approval. That seems to be meeting with mixed reviews. As Exhibit A, I present the plan for what the district will do if school is closed again due to treacherous weather conditions.

That matter went before the executive committee and got the green light. Then it went to the board, and the proposal’s caveats of making staff working additional time at the end of the year and turning the “snow days” into virtual learning days caused strife and resulted in only half the proposal getting approved at first, followed by a reluctant approval to the virtual learning two weeks later.

That brought up the question by board member Jeana Winslow: If you’re going to have committees discuss the proposals first, shouldn’t you trust the recommendation they make?

Unfortunately, that format done in years past left the public in the dark. When it was revealed in 2022 the budget was going to be over $2 million in debt, families and property owners were outraged because there was no clear public pattern establishing how we ended up in that situation. To this day, there is still mistrust that the school board is being run properly.

The solution: blatant transparency. That can only happen with discussion taking place at the board meetings, as the district is only comfortable with having those meetings on video, and that only came about because the pandemic made in-person meetings ill-advised.

If board members are concerned that these meetings are all going to be lasting until 9 or 10 p.m., perhaps they should change the format of the meetings where matters are discussed at one meeting, with no vote taken, in a work session or study session. The board can make its vote at the next meeting two or three weeks later, giving time for matters to be researched not only by board members but the public, as well.

That format would put the discussion in an arena where members of the public who can’t attend a certain board meeting can still watch the YouTube video, eliminating suspicions that matters are being discussed in private about public schools. Giving time for everything to be fleshed out and examined will show the rubber stamp era is over, and trust will return.

If the district ever hopes to bring forward a referendum, it’s going to need the public to have trust and faith again. Instead of shutting people out, officials should pull out all the stops to let them back in.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for NEW Media. Readers can contact him at