IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…
A few years after the last failed referendum of $85 million, the Racine Unified Board of Education decided to pursue their latest referendum drive – this time for $128 million. Their last three attempts have failed, so now they appear to have decided to employ a front group with teachers, administrative employees and some parents. At least last time, the district didn’t have a massive surplus of funds like they do now. It looks even less likely now that it will pass.
Yes! for Racine Unified Schools is a non-profit, aimed at presenting a grassroots effort to pass the referendum on November 4th. The website, Facebook page and signage indicates some big money behind it. Many Racine residents usually know who that means.
Rather than a mere group of enthusiastic, active parents it appears to be an extension of the RUSD board itself. As it happens, nine of the 14 committee members are the RUSD board members… every single one. In an amusing twist, the list of committee members is listed in the exact same order of the board members on the site. Copy+paste seems to be a trend this election season.
In fact, the Yes! committee is structured in such a way that it would be nearly impossible to meet without needing at least five of those RUSD members. The problem with this is, five members either meeting or corresponding about the referendum would create a quorum for Racine Unified. Without a public notice, this would be a violation of the Open Meetings law.
“The convening of members of a governmental body for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities, authority, power or duties delegated to or vested in the body. If one-half or more of the members of a governmental body are present, the meeting is rebuttably presumed to be for the purpose of exercising the responsibilities, authority, power or duties delegated to or vested in the body. The term does not include any social or chance gathering or conference which is not
intended to avoid this subchapter.”
Is the creation of a “private” and “parent-based” organization tantamount to a “social gathering intended to avoid this subchapter?”
Since this new committee is formed for the exclusive purpose of promoting an RUSD issue, it cannot be considered a “social or chance gathering,” according to case law (Paulton v Volkman; Badke v Greendale). Even if the committee has jumped through hoops to avoid breaking the OM laws, why would they go to such great lengths to create a separate committee that requires it? It seems a bit dangerous to dance the line so closely. It would require extremely delicate attention to assure that a quorum of the Yes! committee were present, but not five of those which are RUSD members.
PLEASE COME INTO THE OPEN
Parents of the Racine Unified District deserve to see the plans, financing and intentions of their elected members regarding this $128 million issue. They’ve already rejected the last three referenda, but it appears the board could be forming a quasi-“shadow” board. Even involved parents may not know of this potential conflict, or that they’re likely being used as pawns in RUSD’s attempt to push through an unpopular referendum in the face of massive surpluses. Is it just to avoid the mixing of private and public money in promotion of the referendum? Is there any possible personal gain for various Yes! donors in the passage of such a referendum?
Perhaps local Racine business, Kranz – who holds a non-bid contract with RUSD for cleaning services – would benefit from passage of the referendum. Is anyone from the business involved with helping the Yes! committee? Would this constitute a conflict of interest if its true?
Since RUSD couldn’t get the last referendum through, could this be an unethical way of pushing through a referendum the local residents really don’t want? It sure smells fishy, but we may never know the answers unless local residents begin demanding them.
Citizens should demand open records requests of the district, and ask the GAB or the local authorities to possibly investigate if there has been any violation of the Open Meetings laws. Perhaps the law was followed, but the suspicious nature of the organization and it’s membership tilts the burden of proof upon the board members. Let them show us email threads, phone calls and meeting notes. In the very least, we deserve a transparent board above reproach.