by ALEXANDRA RETTER
The Winona Area Public Schools Board (WAPS) recently amended the District’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee guidelines to require a smaller number of members from the community are present for the group to meet. The school board also changed the guidelines to require a member of the school board to serve as chair of the DEI.
The school board approved these revisions to DEI guidelines on October 6.
All school board members voted for the quorum change. School board members Karl Sonneman and Jim Schul did not vote in favor of requiring the DEI chair to be a school board member, saying they wanted there to be flexibility for the role.
Previously, for DCI to meet, a quorum of at least nine members, with no less than five community members, had to be present. From now on, the quorum is set at seven members, with no less than three members of the community.
School board members also agreed to add to the guidelines that DEI be chaired by a school board member. Stephanie Smith, a school board member, is currently president of DEI; the amended guidelines require any future chair to also be a member of the board.
Several school board members said they wanted to change the quorum because of concerns about the continued work of the committee. The school board disbanded the district’s previous diversity committee, DEC, last year over similar concerns about the committee’s work rate. School board member Stephanie Smith, who currently chairs the DEI, said she, Superintendent Annette Freiheit and school board president Nancy Denzer discussed changing the DEI quorum before the Oct. 6 board meeting. DEI members did not discuss the changes before the school board vote.
Smith said she supported changing the quorum because there were three meetings DEI could not officially hold this year due to lack of quorum. DCI does not officially meet in April, July or September. “But going forward, if we set that at no less than three community members, we still have the community around the table,” she said. “We always have their opinion… and [we] like a council tries to do, we try to make sure that the work is followed, and we try to make sure that this work keeps moving forward. And I feel like by leaving the number at five, we’re not getting to where we need to be.
“…Whether we have a specific number of community members to have a quorum, well, I don’t think that’s necessarily critical. I also think it’s not a bad idea to have…have a set number of community members,” said school board member Karl Sonneman, who also sits on DEI. “And I think that’s a good compromise to just get us to the place where we have a quorum and we can have meetings and resolve this issue of how many community members should be there.” He added of the school board members: “We are all members of the community. We are elected in the community… It does not remove us from the community, and it does not mean that we are not part of the community or that we do not represent the community. He added that he was concerned that the committee was not moving forward as it should.
In contrast, school board member Steve Schild said he did not favor a drop in quorum. “There have been a lot of very legitimate concerns that the community should be represented. And…I think we’re going to get a better, wider sample of community input if there’s five people there rather than three,” he said. He continued: “And I would much rather see, I would much rather see a committee with more people but who are willing and able to show up than to reduce the number required for a quorum here.” Despite these concerns, Schild ultimately voted for the new guidelines.
Schild also suggested that the school board add to the guidelines that DEI be chaired by a member of the school board. He said he thought the chair of the DEI should be a board member since the DEI is a committee of the school board. “In the event that there continue to be attendance issues…I want there to be someone who will be there all the time, and I think…the likelihood that it would be increased if it was a member of the board of directors,” he said.
Smith agreed with the idea of having a member of the school board chair the DEI. “For example, I’m the person running the meetings right now. So if I have any questions or concerns, I can reach out to Nancy directly and feel comfortable doing so,” she said, referring to school board chair Denzer, who does not sit. at DEI. “[Whereas] a community member might not know, perhaps, where the board sits on something or to contact them regarding any questions they might have.
Earlier this year, Sonneman told the Post that one of the reasons for disbanding DEC was to have a committee more in touch with what the school board would support.
Smith continued, “…With the current council we have now, it’s more likely that a council member is going to reach out to ask questions instead of a community member or a member of the staff or a student representative.”