Sunday, March 21, 2010

Teaching school board members the real meaning of the word "rejection"

I’m glad to see the Oshkosh Northwestern understands that had the Oshkosh Area School District’s Board of Education actually increased taxes to the level voters approved last April, recent budget cuts it voted for would not have needed to be so severe or deep. Regular viewers of “Eye on Oshkosh” know that I have been complaining about this refusal to exercise the referendum-approved item for several months already, even while some articles about “referendum-funded” maintenance projects appeared in the Northwestern. One even talked about those “referendum-funded” maintenance projects being cheaper than expected. I don't know if they never made the connection before or just didn't write about it, but, better late than never and I’m glad the dots are finally being connected by the Northwestern (not to mention, others in the community).

Another point that needs to be made, and one with which I agree with the Northwestern, is this: “The board's overt repudiation of the voters is an embarrassment and insult. Do not be surprised if in the long run the voters prevail at the polls when these board members seek re-election.” The first of those board members seeking re-election who should I believe should be rejected by voters next month is Dan Becker. But I think he should be rejected for more than just rejecting and voting against the will of the people with regard to the referendum-funded maintenance.

Mr. Becker has preached his fiscal conservativeness to us on many occasions. Yet there are times he has cost the taxpayers in this district money. Here are just a couple from recent history.

The first came when he asked for a recount after he was defeated by Amy Weinsheim in 2006. That recount, while within Becker’s right to ask for, cost the district's taxpayers about three times more than first expected – a number that Becker contributed to by making so many ridiculous and outrageous challenges during the recount. For Becker it seemed to be more about having votes throwing out because of nitpicky, technical issues, than about ensuring that every vote was counted. You can read about that recount here and here. Despite his many efforts, Becker still lost in that race. Unfortunately, and for whatever reason, voters sent him back to the school board the following year.

Then we have the fact that in 2008, Dan Becker created a stink over his perceived conflict of interest with the board’s choice for school superintendent, after which candidate Dr. Gundlach withdrew from the job he’d already accepted. That set the board back about 18 months and required it start over with a superintendant search – again at more cost than would have been necessary. There was no conflict of interest with Dr. Gundlach’s wife teaching in a district where he would have been superintendant and even the state ethics board told Becker so. And while Becker still maintains he had a justifiable reason for his actions, he cannot deny that those actions likely cost the taxpayers more money. You can read more about that by going here.

There is more hypocrisy surrounding Dan Becker than just these two things. He did not attend two recent public forums the district held on the 2010-11 budget. On Eye on Oshkosh recently, he cited work reasons for his not attending. Yet, despite his absence, Becker later charged that the meetings were stacked with teachers and that the people present who said they wanted their taxes raised instead of staff or programs cut were biased. It’s funny he should scream bias over this issue when the very referendum question that was passed last April also indicated the taxpayers wanted taxes raised in order for certain things to be done in the district. It is also funny how when parents spoke out en masse some years back against the school calendar being changed – whose position Becker happened to support – he didn’t claim there was any bias. It seems like either Dan Becker doesn’t have a good grasp on what bias really means or he only sees bias when the opinion is one with which he disagrees.

As far as those forums being attended by teachers, Becker should be reminded there were also a lot of people who spoke at a recent school board meeting held at the Alberta Kimball auditorium who said programs or classes should not be cut. Granted, many of those who spoke were students who don’t vote or pay taxes, but the sentiment has been echoed by people who do, and the board still ended up rejecting the will of the people.

Dan Becker also has a history of complaining about teacher salaries and benefits. We see more evidence of that in this article in this morning’s Oshkosh Northwestern. This is really more hypocrisy from Becker and his sidekick, school board president Ben Schneider II. Both these men are married to employees in other school districts. Becker’s wife’s salary as a middle school English teacher in the Omro school district for the 2008-09 school year was $41,113 with a fringe package worth $26,683 for a total of $67,796, while Schneider’s wife’s salary as a speech/language pathologist in the Neenah school district for the 2008-09 school year was $57,135 with a fringe package worth $29,476 for a total of $86,611. Becker admitted on Eye on Oshkosh recently that his family’s health care benefits are derived from his wife’s employment and I’ll bet the same is true for the Schneider household. So while these men complain about reining in salaries and benefits in the Oshkosh school district, they have no trouble whatsoever feeding from a taxpayer-funded trough in another district.

I’m sure I could find more examples of hypocrisy on the part of school board candidate Dan Becker or money that he has cost us. But in my book, despite his words to the contrary, I believe Becker only respects the voters in this district who agree with him on issues and I think that’s something that all voters need to look closely at when they go to the polls on Tuesday, April 6.


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