March 17, 2008

Updated: McKenna says she was ignored on commentary

Updated: Julie McKenna said Tuesday she was "frustrated" with her fellow School Board members when she wrote the letter to the editor that appeared in Sunday's paper opposing a commentary by the School Board on the same page.

We called McKenna Tuesday and asked her to expand on her concerns with the commentary. She described a confusing and rushed effort by the School Board to get the commentary out to The Journal Times. She declined to single out any members on the board, but said she felt ignored throughout the process.

"I can understand why the public is so angry (with Unified)," McKenna. "It's like they won't listen to anyone."

McKenna's main concern about the commentary was the opening paragraph, which she wanted to clearly state that there was a gap between Unified and the public. Instead, the commentary read there was a "perception of a gulf."

"It's not perception," McKenna said, "it's reality."

McKenna wanted the commentary to focus on positive aspects of the district, particularly on student achievement. She pointed out that many Unified students succeed every day, but those stories seem to get lost in the negativity that engulfs the district.

"If the School Board can't celebrate students, who's going to?" she asked.

McKenna added that she wanted the piece to be more direct. If the School Board wants to ask people to vote for the referendum, it should simply ask voters to support the upcoming five-year, $16.5 million proposal, she said. Instead, the piece danced around the issue and only got to the referendum at the end.

For the record, McKenna strongly supports the referendum. She helped come up with the five-year proposal and is working hard to get it passed on April 1.

More troubling than the wording of a commentary, though, McKenna said she couldn't get anyone on the board to listen to her concerns. When she made a motion to edit the piece, prior to publication, she couldn't even get a second on the motion to open up discussion. It was a remarkable sign of disrespect for the longest serving member of the School Board who easily won re-election the last time she was up.

Stung by the board's unwillingness to listen to her concerns, McKenna went public. She was initially told no one's name would appear on the commentary; instead, it would be signed by the Racine Unified School Board. McKenna said that would have been OK, because she could respect the board's vote on the issue.

But she later learned that they intended to place every board member's name on the commentary. McKenna decided she couldn't support the commentary, and wrote The Journal Times asking that her name be taken off the piece. The JT agreed, and asked her to write a letter. Both ran on Sunday's Opinion page.

McKenna said the disagreement over the commentary is indicative of the working relationships on the School Board. While they can work well together, often it seems like some members are left out of discussions. McKenna said she's situations where one, two or even three members seem to be unaware of an issue that comes before the board.

"We're definitely not working together as nine,"McKenna said.

Original post: A little spat between School Board members showed up on Sunday's Opinion page in The Journal Times. School Board Member Julie McKenna broke from the rest of the board and refused to sign a commentary about the April 1 referendum. Instead, McKenna wrote a letter to the editor explaining why her name was not on the commentary that ran on the same page.

McKenna said she disagreed with the first paragraph in the commentary, which reads:
We are at a critical juncture in determining the future of the Racine Unified School District. Coming out of a very difficult period, we know community confidence in the district is shaken. As a result, many see a wide gulf between the community and its school system. This perception itself could be a barrier to progress if we let it. But as a community, we cannot afford to let this become a barrier. We have to move forward. And we must find a way to move forward together.
In her letter, McKenna wrote:
As an individual school board member my disagreement lies in the first paragraph of the commentary. I wanted the focus of the school board to be on student achievement and I believe the perception listed about the gap between the community and school is a reality, not perception, and the critical juncture about the future is not about the future but the status quo.

I wanted the focus of the letter to be on getting support for the schools and asking the community for help in achieving that vision and to recognize the success of our students and the reality of some students not succeeding. I do agree this has been a difficult time in the past year.
I've read both the commentary and McKenna's letter a handful of times. I'm not sure what she's getting at. Is she opposed to the referendum?

The commentary seems straight forward: Here are five things we're doing to improve the district. The most encouraging point is the plan for the middle and high schools. District officials are trying to implement alternative teaching methods, along with traditional instruction, to reach out to more students.

The others include hiring a superintendent, holding community listening sessions, redistricting elementary schools and passing the April 1 maintenance referendum.

Based on her letter, I'm not sure why McKenna felt she needed to pull her name from the commentary. There's public support to be won in opposing anything Unified does right now, but McKenna isn't up for election this spring. I'm guessing she felt ignored by the other board members, and felt this was the only way to make her voice heard.


  1. *****BREAKING NEWS*****

    Speaking of schools, has anyone heard aboout a local Alderman's wife being suspended from Racine Unified for an incident involving an ED student?? C'mon Post reporters, get on this ASAP!!!

    *****BREAKING NEWS*****

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I've been at meetings where McKenna clearly supported the referendum, so that's not her problem. I too, could not figure exactly what her point was after reading the board's commentary.

    But here's the thing, public confidence is and has been shaken about the school district for quite a while. And when you read a LTE from one board member, who has to publicly declare herself separate from the rest of the board over trivial wording makes public confidence WORSE.

    The appearance is that McKenna can't work well with her colleagues and one then wonders what else can they not resolve that is far more important than an OpEd.

  4. Enough with the comments on the alderman's wife. We hear what you're saying. We're looking into it. We have nothing to report at this time.

  5. Thanks Dustin!