Waunakee school board members were presented information this week about the Wisconsin Public Education (WPEN), a nonpartisan advocacy coalition of K-12 districts throughout the state, to help them decide whether joining the group is something the district should consider.

WPEN Executive Director Heather DuBois Bourenane spoke at the board’s Sept. 13 meeting, sharing information about the Wisconsin Public Education Network and what the alliance does. Bourenane said the coalition was formed five years ago, when education supporters recognized the need to collectively advocate for the nearly 1 million students attending Wisconsin schools.

Since then member districts have advocated at the local, state, and federal level for educational-policy and school-funding changes that they believe would benefit all K-12 students.

“We really only represent the interests of kids. We don’t have any other agenda but to identify children’s needs and make sure they’re being met all over the state. And because we have that loose identification, we’re more free than some other professional organizations or groups are to speak very loudly and frankly to make sure kids’ needs are being met,” Bourenane said, adding that WPEN is a nonpartisan group. “We don’t always agree on all things. But we do try to stick to the facts and get the tools that we need to best understand what the challenges facing our kids are.”

Director Ted Frey asked who makes the determination whether an advocacy group is nonpartisan.

Bourenane noted that the coalition was a 501©(3) nonprofit organization, and consisted of both liberal and conservative members. She said part of its mission is to provide factual resources that do not support one political side over another.

Director Dave Boetcher cited the coalition’s membership list as evidence of its nonpartisanship.

“The 40 school districts that are on there are from all over the state,” Boetcher said, noting several districts that fell within conservative regions. “These are not the most left-leaning school areas that you have ever seen. So the fact that they’re able to attract school districts from across the state shows that it can’t be totally one-sided.”

Boetcher noted advocacy work around the school funding formula that, if successful, would benefit all districts in the state. WPEN has been advocating for an increase in the state’s special-education reimbursement rate, asking that the rate be effectively doubled to 60 percent.

“That would mean over $2 million in additional state aid every year for Waunakee,” Bourenane said. “Together, we can demand that.”

Bourenane said annual membership dues for the Waunakee school district would be $1276.

Board members voted to table consideration of the proposal until November, so that information about the coalition could be shared with treasurer Jack Heinemann and vice president Mark Hetzel who were not in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

Other business

Also at the Sept. 13 meeting, the school board:

- Heard public comment from nearly two dozen parents in the district, many of whom expressed opposition to the mask mandate in place at WCSD schools. One parent alleged that an instructor had taped a face mask to his child’s face. Tribune staff asked superintendent Randy Guttenberg about the incident Monday night. Guttenberg said the district will be looking into the allegation, and could not comment on the matter until it has been fully investigated. Public Health Madison Dane County has issued a face covering order for indoor spaces.

- Received a teacher report from WTA rep Ashley Taylor and elementary-school instructor Anne Dahlie. The teachers reported that the first day of school was “a joyous occasion,” and that the recent SPEAK UP training provided to staff had been well-received. Taylor said teaching staff supported decisions that allow greater opportunity for in-person instruction.

- Discussed the location and format for an upcoming community-engagement meeting. District officials agreed that in-person discussion would be most beneficial, and that a hybrid format should be pursued to accommodate those who wish to take part virtually. The meeting has been set for Sept. 27, at the high school’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

- Reviewed the annual start-of-school report from superintendent Randy Guttenberg. Guttenberg shared the presentation he gave to staff at their Welcome Back event, where he read a children’s book and asked teachers the rhetorical question: ‘Why do we teach?’ Guttenberg said he made rounds of the various K-12 buildings during the first week of school, and observed a generally positive atmosphere at each, noting that class sizes were down as the district had prioritized in recent years.

- Received a presentation from the district’s DEI committee. The committee conducted an equity audit over the past year, and has proposed a series of recommendations to address opportunity gaps within the schools. No action was taken by the board.

- Approved recommendations from the district’s HR committee. Hourly pay scales for crossing guards and custodial positions have been adjusted to more accurately reflect current wages, and a $500 referral bonus was approved for staff members who refer an individual hired to an hourly position.

- Reviewed a co-curricular report for the 2020-21 school year.

- Approved the addition of three special-education para educator positions in the district.

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