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Charles Responds to BEA

[WARNING: Local Politics Ahead. Fortunately, the election is today, so after that we can return to our regularly scheduled blather.

By the way, if you’re a local, do get out and vote. We’re projected to have a low turnout this year, which makes every vote cast that much more precious.]

I wrote last week about the attack ad the Beloit Education Association (our local teachers’ union) took out in the Stateline News to slam two of the people serving on our school board: Pam Charles and Shannon Scharmer. Pam posted her response on her website and then paid for a full-page rebuttal ad that essentially mimics exactly what’s on her website.

Today, the Beloit Daily News ran an article in which it investigated the allegations in the attack ad. The BEA refused to say anything to defend the ad, preferring to let it stand on its own. I think that was a mistake. If you’re going to publicly start an argument, you should have your sources all lined up and ready to back you up. I suspect that some of their sources only spoke up on the condition of anonymity, but that’s a thin shield in a city the size of Beloit.

Charles does a good job of refuting some but not all of the claims against her, but Scharmer doesn’t manage to do much other than to explain her some of her actions away as the results of errors and ignorance. Both of them claim to not be the bullies they’ve been depicted as, but this is a difficult issue to prove either way. They both put their kids’ tears on display in an attempt to show how mean the BEA has been to to them. I think it’s tough that any kids have to deal with this sort of stuff, but when many of the accusations involve the parents supposedly exercising undue influence on the kids’ behalf, it’s hard to tell who is the root cause of those tears.

In any case, the interview still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

1) The paper states that it’s false that Pam used her influence to get her son on the high school jazz band, despite the fact he attends a private school. Pam posted a letter from the band director Chris Behrens disputing this, and the paper quotes him about it as well. Of course, it’s easy to see how this might be trouble for Chris too if it turned out to be true. The paper should also have checked with the supposedly unbiased Wisconsin State Music Association to see if the BEA’s claims of sanctions were true.

2) The paper states that only Aldrich Middle School has ever complained about Pam. However, it doesn’t elaborate on the nature of the complaint, nor what prompted it. I’d love to know more about this.

3) I found it ironic that Pam cited the confidentiality of student records when discussing her own children, about whom she’s at liberty to speak as she likes. Shannon, for instance, spoke freely about her kids. The paper should not have let Pam use such an excuse. She could have just said, “That’s none of your business,” and that’s legitimate, but that’s not what she said. Call her on it.

4) The paper does a poor job of exploring the accusation about Pam’s kids and Shannon’s kids using school district scholarships to attend camps for the gifted and talented. Pam doesn’t seem to have been asked if she applied for such a scholarship or not. It’s just noted that she paid for her child’s camp and provided a scholarship for another. In her rebuttal ad, she notes that she never applied for money for summer band camp, but she carefully calls that out as opposed to other programs, and the paper doesn’t seem to have asked her about it directly.

Also, was this scholarship Pam paid for given out based on merit, need, or being a friend of the Charles family? Any of those are legitimate ways for Pam to spend her money—it’s hers—but calling it a scholarship implies certain things.

The school district scholarships were originally only offered to kids who qualified for free or reduced lunches, but that changed at some point. Why? And after it happened, why wasn’t this information disseminated to other parents in the district? How many other kids applied for the money that went to Shannon’s kids?

Also, if one of Shannon’s sons received scholarship money but doesn’t go to school in our district, is that proper? I’d think our scholarship money should go to kids who actually attend our schools.

5) The paper seems happy to ignore the fact that both Pam and Shannon—who help oversee our public schools—have children in private schools. Why have they decided that our schools aren’t for their kids despite the fact that they’ve supposedly been working so hard to improve them?

6) Apparently Nancy Mayhew, our school district’s former human relations manager, is suing our school district over a job that Shannon applied for initially, before withdrawing her name. I’d love to see more details about this, or even an interview with Nancy. A web search didn’t show any news on this at all, although I don’t think the Daily News‘s archives go back very far, so I can’t tell if they’ve ever covered this story in depth or not.

7) The BEA ad mentions that Shannon filed a claim to be reimbursed for lost wages as part of her going to a school board conference. Never mind that she and Pam both filed for reimbursement late and then had the board waive the deadline. I understand that part. But did the school district really pay her salary so she could go to the conference?

On the front page of the paper, editor Bill Barth states, “we do not feel obliged to check facts in every ad appearing in our paper, political or otherwise.” He goes on to explain why they made an exception here.

Bill’s rationalizations are beside the point. A newspaper’s job is to dig up the truth. The accusations the BEA made have been flying around our city for months. The Daily News shouldn’t have needed a third-party ad to drag them into reluctantly making a belated attempt to nudge people for the facts. It should have been out there weeks ago, tracking down the truth, aggressively and unprompted.

For this reason, I’d still like to see a full and unbiased investigation—like the one that Pam and Shannon backed last year when we had a film crew come in and try to shoot a music video purportedly backing Barack Obama’s candidacy. The paper helped them loudly raise a lot of concerns over something that was ultimately found to be simply bad judgment on the part of our (now outgoing) superintendent.

I expect nothing less be done for these far more serious accusations, immediately.

If the results of that independent investigation clear Pam and Shannon, then they and the city can all rest easier. If not, though, we should see appropriate consequences dealt out. Until one of those two things happen, there’s no way we can just move on.

Comments 10

  1. Matt
    I like your analysis. As usual, some comments…

    My biggest concern is that we are now having a battle of newspaper ads, all of which are one sided and intended to give just one side with no discussion. If these are true issues, and they appear to be at least “half truth”, and the BEA was concerned, why bring them up all at once in an ad? If you want change, you don’t save up your issues and lay them out every three years. If employers and parents did this, it would result in chaos.

    Ads like this cost money, and now it seems to me that the cost of running a campaign has escalated. Does a School Board member now have to wonder if their actions will result in full page ads, and a consequent rebutal?

    To put this in perspective, School Board campaigns used to cost around $500, the cost for signs. Now they require signs, ads, campaign managers, etc., and this all costs at least $3,000 to $5,000 and a lot of time. Are we now making it so that only those who can afford it, or those who don’t work can run? When we make it expensive to run and get elected, we can expect special interest groups to get elected. Few, except those with an ax to grind, are willing to cough up $100 for a School Board campaign, and they will want to have a voice.

    So not only did the ad by the BEA come out as somewhat mean spirited, it also changed the complexion of future races, and not for the better I am afraid. Always be careful what you wish for.

  2. Matt
    I like your analysis. As usual, some comments…

    My biggest concern is that we are now having a battle of newspaper ads, all of which are one sided and intended to give just one side with no discussion. If these are true issues, and they appear to be at least “half truth”, and the BEA was concerned, why bring them up all at once in an ad? If you want change, you don’t save up your issues and lay them out every three years. If employers and parents did this, it would result in chaos.

    Ads like this cost money, and now it seems to me that the cost of running a campaign has escalated. Does a School Board member now have to wonder if their actions will result in full page ads, and a consequent rebutal?

    To put this in perspective, School Board campaigns used to cost around $500, the cost for signs. Now they require signs, ads, campaign managers, etc., and this all costs at least $3,000 to $5,000 and a lot of time. Are we now making it so that only those who can afford it, or those who don’t work can run? When we make it expensive to run and get elected, we can expect special interest groups to get elected. Few, except those with an ax to grind, are willing to cough up $100 for a School Board campaign, and they will want to have a voice.

    So not only did the ad by the BEA come out as somewhat mean spirited, it also changed the complexion of future races, and not for the better I am afraid. Always be careful what you wish for.

  3. I agree that this kind of thing costs too much, and the biggest benefactor has been the Stateline News—which isn’t really a newspaper at all but a biweekly shopper. They got a lot of attention for running these ads, plus the fees they collected.

    Again, though, if the Daily News was doing its job, it would have investigated these rumors well ahead of time and given the candidates the chance to defend themselves for free. If these issues had appeared in the paper, I don’t think the BEA would have felt it needed to run such an ad. I honestly wish they hadn’t felt compelled to do so, but if the local news doesn’t cover such issues, how else can we expect people to hear about them?

    For Amy Oselio’s campaign, I served as treasurer, and we spent as little money as we felt we could. That may hurt us at the polls today, but that’s the choice we made.

    As for only people with plenty of money and time to spend on a campaign being able to run, I think we were already there, which may be another reason for the fundraising escalation. From what I know, Pam does not have a full-time job outside of the home, so she has the extra time to spend on both the campaign and the school board. She also has more signs on lawns in our city than anyone else. Some of these were left over from her last campaign, so she may not have had to pay much additional for them this year, but she clearly spent far more than $500 on them at some point. (I priced these out for Amy and Missy, so I know.)

    Also, she doesn’t seem shy of paying for things herself when necessary. If you check out Pam’s rebuttal ad, for instance, the authorization line at the bottom reads, “Authorized and paid for by Pam Charles.” No mention of a campaign committee or treasurer is made, which suggests she ponied up the $1,000 or so for this out of her own pocket.

    If anyone else had paid for it directly, that would have been a campaign financing violation, as the cost of the ad is far greater than the limit on individual donations to a campaign. You’re allowed to spend as much as you like on your own campaign, though, as long as it’s your money to begin with.

    I don’t mean it to sound like I back the BEA entirely though. I think they’ve made a number of mistakes here too. However, I’m glad that someone finally brought these issues to light.

  4. Post
    Author

    I agree that this kind of thing costs too much, and the biggest benefactor has been the Stateline News—which isn’t really a newspaper at all but a biweekly shopper. They got a lot of attention for running these ads, plus the fees they collected.

    Again, though, if the Daily News was doing its job, it would have investigated these rumors well ahead of time and given the candidates the chance to defend themselves for free. If these issues had appeared in the paper, I don’t think the BEA would have felt it needed to run such an ad. I honestly wish they hadn’t felt compelled to do so, but if the local news doesn’t cover such issues, how else can we expect people to hear about them?

    For Amy Oselio’s campaign, I served as treasurer, and we spent as little money as we felt we could. That may hurt us at the polls today, but that’s the choice we made.

    As for only people with plenty of money and time to spend on a campaign being able to run, I think we were already there, which may be another reason for the fundraising escalation. From what I know, Pam does not have a full-time job outside of the home, so she has the extra time to spend on both the campaign and the school board. She also has more signs on lawns in our city than anyone else. Some of these were left over from her last campaign, so she may not have had to pay much additional for them this year, but she clearly spent far more than $500 on them at some point. (I priced these out for Amy and Missy, so I know.)

    Also, she doesn’t seem shy of paying for things herself when necessary. If you check out Pam’s rebuttal ad, for instance, the authorization line at the bottom reads, “Authorized and paid for by Pam Charles.” No mention of a campaign committee or treasurer is made, which suggests she ponied up the $1,000 or so for this out of her own pocket.

    If anyone else had paid for it directly, that would have been a campaign financing violation, as the cost of the ad is far greater than the limit on individual donations to a campaign. You’re allowed to spend as much as you like on your own campaign, though, as long as it’s your money to begin with.

    I don’t mean it to sound like I back the BEA entirely though. I think they’ve made a number of mistakes here too. However, I’m glad that someone finally brought these issues to light.

  5. My comments on a few of the topics at hand…

    1) The Jazz Band Issue. Do we really have to dwell on this subject? Leave the kids out of it. If someone exerts undo influence, the Board should deal with it. If they don’t, shame on the entire Board.

    2) Camps. My concern is not so much who went, why, etc. But where on earth did the District get money for a camp?? While on the Board, we had money for little, no summer school, no Tech Ed program at the mall, no security guards, no summer camps, no Wellness coordinator, all of which we have now. At times I and other past Board members are stunned to see so much money being spent over the past three years, and now has to be cut. Who went where, and how, pales in comparison to the issue of how the District magically had money, and how it so quickly evaporated.

    3) Conferences. Again, bigger issues should be addressed here, versus who attended, did families go, or when and how they got reimbursed. Conferences in my mind are a total waste of time. I will stand by that until someone shows me one, just one, program or item that made a positive impact on this District due to them attending a conference. I’ll wait….

    No, families should not go, in my mind it does not pass my smell test. Should Board members be reimbursed for lost wages? They know the issues and time involved, so why get paid on top of that? One gets a small monthly “salary” to be on the Board, use that. Quit going to useless conferences held in Florida, Las Vegas, California, etc., and if you need education, go buy a book and read it. If you need some, I will lend you some (purchased on my “dime”.)

    3) Applying for jobs. Simple. Put a policy in place that states clearly that no Board member, or Board family member may apply for a job with the District, unless they have resigned their position on the Board. Only then can they apply.

    One issue related to a Crystal Report writer position, for over $80,000 a year… Now trust me here. I used to be in software, still follow it, I know software. Crystal Reports won’t work on the School’s system (Skyward). Skyward uses a Progress Data Base, and Crystal won’t work over it. I personally gave my copy of Crystal to the District 5 years ago, told them to try it, it won’t work. Now Crystal is a fairly simple to use program. You don’t need or want high priced people generating reports. So the program does not work, you don’t need high priced people running it, and a Board member’s family should not apply. This was a bigger problem than just who applied. (A complicated issue, but not enough room here to explain in detail.) Oh, and just where did the District get money for a position like this??

    4) Private Schools. I will admit that when I was on the Board, I sent some of my kids to private schools (just one of three). Plain and simple, the public schools could not or would not meet their needs. I learned to public schools don’t listen at times, even if you are a Board member. We can all say that we need to change that. All well and good, but a kid does not have 5 years for a District to implement a plan, when they need help, they need it now. Oh, and going to a private school shows you that curriculums don’t have to change every two years, that text books can be cheaper, and that their are better ways to do things. So the Private Schools can teach the public schools a lot, don’t ignore them…. That, and let’s keep the kids out of a public discussion. Bad form, no matter how we discuss it…

    Again, a good Board can overcome a poor Superintendent. A good Superintendent can overcome a bad Board. But when you have a poor Superintendent and a poor Board, you can expect all sorts of problems. My question is where was the entire School Board when these issues came up? Why did they let the Superintendent stay in his position for so long?

    Also, where did the Board get all of this “new found” money for all these new programs (I am still stunned that we had money for a summer camp)? And then why did it disappear so quickly? If we don’t know the answers to that question, this District will continually get whipsawed around with additions and cuts…..

  6. My comments on a few of the topics at hand…

    1) The Jazz Band Issue. Do we really have to dwell on this subject? Leave the kids out of it. If someone exerts undo influence, the Board should deal with it. If they don’t, shame on the entire Board.

    2) Camps. My concern is not so much who went, why, etc. But where on earth did the District get money for a camp?? While on the Board, we had money for little, no summer school, no Tech Ed program at the mall, no security guards, no summer camps, no Wellness coordinator, all of which we have now. At times I and other past Board members are stunned to see so much money being spent over the past three years, and now has to be cut. Who went where, and how, pales in comparison to the issue of how the District magically had money, and how it so quickly evaporated.

    3) Conferences. Again, bigger issues should be addressed here, versus who attended, did families go, or when and how they got reimbursed. Conferences in my mind are a total waste of time. I will stand by that until someone shows me one, just one, program or item that made a positive impact on this District due to them attending a conference. I’ll wait….

    No, families should not go, in my mind it does not pass my smell test. Should Board members be reimbursed for lost wages? They know the issues and time involved, so why get paid on top of that? One gets a small monthly “salary” to be on the Board, use that. Quit going to useless conferences held in Florida, Las Vegas, California, etc., and if you need education, go buy a book and read it. If you need some, I will lend you some (purchased on my “dime”.)

    3) Applying for jobs. Simple. Put a policy in place that states clearly that no Board member, or Board family member may apply for a job with the District, unless they have resigned their position on the Board. Only then can they apply.

    One issue related to a Crystal Report writer position, for over $80,000 a year… Now trust me here. I used to be in software, still follow it, I know software. Crystal Reports won’t work on the School’s system (Skyward). Skyward uses a Progress Data Base, and Crystal won’t work over it. I personally gave my copy of Crystal to the District 5 years ago, told them to try it, it won’t work. Now Crystal is a fairly simple to use program. You don’t need or want high priced people generating reports. So the program does not work, you don’t need high priced people running it, and a Board member’s family should not apply. This was a bigger problem than just who applied. (A complicated issue, but not enough room here to explain in detail.) Oh, and just where did the District get money for a position like this??

    4) Private Schools. I will admit that when I was on the Board, I sent some of my kids to private schools (just one of three). Plain and simple, the public schools could not or would not meet their needs. I learned to public schools don’t listen at times, even if you are a Board member. We can all say that we need to change that. All well and good, but a kid does not have 5 years for a District to implement a plan, when they need help, they need it now. Oh, and going to a private school shows you that curriculums don’t have to change every two years, that text books can be cheaper, and that their are better ways to do things. So the Private Schools can teach the public schools a lot, don’t ignore them…. That, and let’s keep the kids out of a public discussion. Bad form, no matter how we discuss it…

    Again, a good Board can overcome a poor Superintendent. A good Superintendent can overcome a bad Board. But when you have a poor Superintendent and a poor Board, you can expect all sorts of problems. My question is where was the entire School Board when these issues came up? Why did they let the Superintendent stay in his position for so long?

    Also, where did the Board get all of this “new found” money for all these new programs (I am still stunned that we had money for a summer camp)? And then why did it disappear so quickly? If we don’t know the answers to that question, this District will continually get whipsawed around with additions and cuts…..

  7. The BDN archives go way, way back, but not all printed stories are online and, way back when Don did it all on his own, some days are completely missing or very limited in content.

    The advanced search option does work to find old articles, but it operates a little weirdly. (At least it seems counter intuitive to me.) First you define a date range and hit search on that date range. On the subsequent page you put in your key word terms in the box – keep them simple, basic and unique to what you seek, as IRC it’s not boolean.

  8. The BDN archives go way, way back, but not all printed stories are online and, way back when Don did it all on his own, some days are completely missing or very limited in content.

    The advanced search option does work to find old articles, but it operates a little weirdly. (At least it seems counter intuitive to me.) First you define a date range and hit search on that date range. On the subsequent page you put in your key word terms in the box – keep them simple, basic and unique to what you seek, as IRC it’s not boolean.

  9. Mark: Thanks for the tip.

    Gary: Good points again. I agree that I’d rather leave the kids out of it entirely, but unfortunately some of the accusations involve allegations that school board members pulled strings for their kids, including getting money for their activities. To date, no one’s accused the kids of doing anything wrong at all, but it’s a shame they have to be caught up in this.

    The employment policy should be as you state, particularly for the school board members. I can see it being waived for family members, although it gets sticky. At the least, the school board member in question should recuse himself or herself from any and all discussions about jobs their spouses or family members pursue.

    I understand that private schools are the right answer for some kids. I attending private schools for most of my time as a kid in Beloit. However, if a board member sends all of her kids to private schools, it raises questions about her commitment to the district. If she has a good answer for these questions, fine, but she shouldn’t be surprised when the questions are raised.

    I do hope that whoever our new superintendent may be we wind up with a strong leader. I’m a bit appalled at the way the board is ramming that decision through before the new members can be seated though. I think the new superintendent deserves to work directly with the people who chose him, not those who succeed them within weeks of his hiring.

    Either way, I’m glad the election will be over tonight, but these questions aren’t going to go away.

  10. Post
    Author

    Mark: Thanks for the tip.

    Gary: Good points again. I agree that I’d rather leave the kids out of it entirely, but unfortunately some of the accusations involve allegations that school board members pulled strings for their kids, including getting money for their activities. To date, no one’s accused the kids of doing anything wrong at all, but it’s a shame they have to be caught up in this.

    The employment policy should be as you state, particularly for the school board members. I can see it being waived for family members, although it gets sticky. At the least, the school board member in question should recuse himself or herself from any and all discussions about jobs their spouses or family members pursue.

    I understand that private schools are the right answer for some kids. I attending private schools for most of my time as a kid in Beloit. However, if a board member sends all of her kids to private schools, it raises questions about her commitment to the district. If she has a good answer for these questions, fine, but she shouldn’t be surprised when the questions are raised.

    I do hope that whoever our new superintendent may be we wind up with a strong leader. I’m a bit appalled at the way the board is ramming that decision through before the new members can be seated though. I think the new superintendent deserves to work directly with the people who chose him, not those who succeed them within weeks of his hiring.

    Either way, I’m glad the election will be over tonight, but these questions aren’t going to go away.

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