Grassroots democracy took a detrimental blow at the hands of the self-serving school board and its administration at the October 5th Sun Prairie School District Annual Electors Meeting.
Wisconsin law requires the school district to hold an annual electors meeting, including a public hearing on the budget, to allow the district residents to exercise the statutory powers of the annual meeting.
These statutory powers include electing a chairperson to conduct the meeting, voting on annual salaries for school board members and voting on the proposed $71,701,570 property tax levy for 2020-21.
The school board and administration published an official notice of the meeting as a routine in-person meeting without considering an alternative for remote voting for electors wishing to exercise their constitutional right to vote, but also wishing to avoid the risk of exposure to the pandemic virus.
Absentee or remote voting is made available almost everywhere else, but not in the Sun Prairie Area School District. The school administration said the electors could watch a live online video, but would not be allowed to participate in the public hearing or exercise their right to vote.
The technology is available to conduct virtual online meetings with full communications and online voting. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards published a 10-page supplement providing a guide to Wisconsin school districts for conducting virtual annual electors meetings during the corona pandemic. The school board conducts its own monthly meetings online using the Zoom platform, which includes online voting to avoid the risk of exposure to the pandemic.
As a result of the lack of consideration for the health and wellbeing of vulnerable electors, the attendance was poor, other than the school board and district staff, only about six to seven electors showed up in person to vote.
When it came time for a vote on the tax levy, the chair disregarded the request for a show of hands, as allowed under Robert’s Rules of Order, and proceeded to call for a voice vote instead of a show of hands, until the parliamentarian advised the chair he should proceed with a show of hands as requested.
A vote by show of hands was ordered, but the chair didn’t bother to get a count of the yes and no votes on a $71.7 million tax levy.
If we don’t hold our local officials accountable for their autocratic actions, the powers of our grassroots democracy will become meaningless.
Town of Sun Prairie