More transparency, fewer childish remarks, please

Lee Pulaski
City Editor

After a tumultuous couple of months with worries of closing schools or sacrificing programs, the Shawano School Board changed leadership, with Mike Musolff getting the nod to be the board president. Before a packed library at Shawano Community High School, the new leader vowed there would be more transparency coming from the school district following weeks of angry parents, teachers, students and staff members who felt blindsided by a sudden revelation that the 2022-23 budget was bleeding $2 million worth of red ink.

For the most part, the veil has been inching up in the district, with more discussion at board meetings and a sign that things are looking brighter for staff now that there’s a different person in the district office running the schools, someone who’s more available and approachable.

For the most part.

Unfortunately, all efforts for self-improvement are bound to stumble on occasion, as anyone can attest to. However, voting behind closed doors to offer a deal for your former superintendent to politely go away, and then publicly saying she’s leaving to spend more time with her family, isn’t a mere stumble — it’s tripping on an epic scale and threatening to knock over the structure of trust you’ve carefully crafted for months.

When the news broke of Randi Anderson’s resignation in late August, Musolff gathered the media together at the high school to talk about her leaving and what steps were being taken to keep the district moving ahead with education. When asked about whether there was any kind of financial impact to the district, Musolff merely said: “There will be certain aspects of that that will be available in the future.”

Except there hasn’t been, at least from the board.

After some open records requests, I found out there was a separation agreement where the district agreed to continue paying Anderson her salary and provide benefits through the end of her contract in 2024 to the tune of about $400,000. While that might seem bizarre, it’s common for school districts and municipalities to make such deals when they’re not satisfied with the direction they’re going.

What’s less common, however, is conducting the vote without the public witnessing it and not having anything in your minutes about said deal, not even a vague sentence stating the board voted on a separation agreement discussed in closed session. After talking with experts in open meeting laws, it was clear the school board circumvented the law and made a deal with the devil in a non-transparent atmosphere.

As part of the story, I called Musolff on Nov. 7 and left a message asking him to comment on what transpired in order to give the public some explanation why this action was hidden. Several hours later, I posted what I had so far online, anticipating Musolff would call back and either explain the board’s actions or to simply say “No comment,” in which case, I’d be able to update the story.

I did not get a call. What I did receive, however, was a rather childish comment from Musolff three days later, as I was covering the arrival of a Black Hawk helicopter to Shawano Community Middle School, in which the board president, while dressed in his police uniform, passed by me and said sarcastically, “Thanks for giving me a chance to respond!”

Putting aside the immaturity of the action for a moment, I have to wonder what gave him the idea his window to speak had closed. While the deadline had passed for getting any comments from Musolff into the print edition, stories published online can easily be updated when circumstances change, and at the time of Musolff’s flippant remark, a good 72 hours had passed since I called him seeking comment. How much time did he need to come up with an explanation?

Now, back to the immaturity factor. What gave Musolff the idea that commenting like a child, which was ironic in light of the fact that he did it adjacent to a school that educates young teens, was the way to exhibit his claim of transparency? Doing it in his police uniform, which means he’s also acting as a member of the Shawano Police Department, makes it doubly questionable. He could have discussed his concerns in more detail, or he could have finally decided to give an explanation on the secret vote and deal. He did neither.

As I’m writing this, more than a week has passed since I broke the news on the agreement with Anderson, and Musolff has still given no inkling as to why the board took action in secret, which is a slap in the face to his mantra of transparency. A school board meeting has been held in that time, and nothing was brought up about the matter. Will the board president come clean, or will his claims of transparency be as much gaslighting as any other politician’s?

The public is entitled to an explanation about $400,000 being earmarked to pay someone who is no longer in the school district’s employ. As president of the school board, Musolff needs to give the explanation, by his own lips or through some other means, and not reduce himself to passing catty remarks suitable only for middle school hallways. I wait to see if his conscience will be his guide.

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