Lightner’s departure cheered by parents who packed meeting to support teacher/coach
In a stunning decision signaling a dramatic leadership change in a month of turmoil, the Grafton School Board on Monday requested and accepted the resignation of Supt. Mel Lightner.
The board’s decision, which was announced at a special meeting attended by more than 150 residents, came less than two weeks after Lightner placed longtime teacher and basketball coach Bob Maronde on paid administrative leave for his handling of a disciplinary matter involving two fifth-grade students.
Lightner’s decision to remove Maronde sparked a communitywide protest and launched a campaign to have the Woodview Elementary School music teacher reinstated.
Most of the crowd gathered in the Grafton High School library in support of Maronde and anticipating his possible reinstatement by the board. They waited for nearly two hours while the board held a closed session to “consider a specific contract matter.”
However, following the closed session, Board President Terry Ziegler told the crowd that the board would make no other statements Monday. Public comments were also not allowed because the meeting was called as a closed session.
“Much has transpired since the last board meeting on April 25, and we will continue to work swiftly on all matters currently before the board,” Ziegler read from a prepared statement.
Ziegler then asked the crowd for patience.
“We have a number of pressing issues. We understand why you’re here,” he said. “We’re trying to work as quickly as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Ziegler said the board will accept public comments at its next regular meeting Monday, May 9.
Lightner, who has been with the district for three years, did not attend Monday’s meeting. He participated in the board’s last regular meeting on April 25 but had since come under fire for his role in removing Maronde from his part-time teaching job and announcing that Maronde would not be offered contracts to continue teaching or coaching boys’ basketball at Grafton High School in the 2016-17 school year.
Under terms of a severance agreement announced by Ziegler, Lightner will not be with the district for the rest of the school year. He will receive one year of pay and one year of insurance covering the balance of a two-year contract that runs through June 2017.
Ziegler said the board is in the process of searching for an interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is hired. The board was scheduled to consider filling the interim position during a closed session at a special meeting Wednesday, May 4.
Lightner’s departure is the latest in a series of contentious issues in the school district during the past few weeks. On April 5, voters rejected a $49.5 million referendum to upgrade district facilities after Lightner, the board and other school officials spent months helping prepare the spending proposal.
In mid-April, Maronde was placed on administrative leave after Lightner reportedly asked him to resign. Although Lightner refused last week to comment on the decision, citing confidentiality in personnel matters, Maronde said he was unfairly removed from his teaching job and denied any wrongdoing.
“I did nothing wrong. I disciplined two students in appropriate ways, and I was asked to resign,” Maronde said in an interview with Ozaukee Press last week. “I wasn’t about to do that.”
Maronde, who has 40 years with the district as a elementary school music teacher, received a loud ovation from the crowd when he arrived for Monday’s board meeting. During the closed session, he spent much of the time exchanging hugs with current and former students, parents, co-workers and other supporters.
A newly launched Facebook page “We Support Bob Maronde” had more than 2,000 likes as of early this week.
“The show of community support has been overwhelming, very humbling,” Maronde said Monday. “This is the one good thing that’s come out of this so far.”
In the interview, Maronde said he was told he was put on administrative leave because of two April 14 incidents involving students.
In the first incident, Maronde said he was teaching a fifth-grade music class when two boys began being disruptive. He said he took the boys to a separate office to calm them down, and that a door to the room closed loudly.
“Part of the strategy is to remove the students from the situation, so I did that,” Maronde said. “The door did close loudly, but I did not slam it.
“I did not raise my voice. I wasn’t demeaning. I never touched anybody.”
Maronde said that after the boys agreed to behave, he returned with them to the classroom. Near the end of the period, the second incident occurred. This time, students were playing kazoos when he saw one of the same two boys holding the instrument close to another boy’s face.
“It was a dangerous situation. I quickly reached in and pulled the kazoo away from the boy’s eye,” Maronde said.
“I didn’t have a great grip on it, and the kazoo went flying across the room. Then I asked the boy to remove himself from the activity, and he went and sat on the side.
“After that, the class went well. Afterward, I spoke to the boy and told him what he did was dangerous, and he nodded his head. The class was over, and that was it.”
The next day, Maronde said, he received a call to report to the district office April 18 to discuss “a thrown kazoo and a slammed door.”
Maronde said Lightner questioned his actions, left to interview students from the class and, when he returned, told Maronde that he was being put on administrative leave. The next day, Maronde said, Lightner asked him to step down and offered to let Maronde coach basketball for one more year if he signed a resignation statement.
“I took the paper home and talked with my wife, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do,” Maronde said. “I contacted a lawyer and he sent a letter to the district saying that I wasn’t going to accept the resignation.”
Maronde, who has worked part-time with the district since retiring as a full-time teacher several years ago, admitted having a reputation as a vocal coach who sometimes loses his temper during games. But he refuted the contention that he might have become verbally abusive with the students involved in the April 14 incidents.
“You’re dealing with a competitive situation in a high school basketball game and then you turn around and try to compare it to being with 8, 9 and 10-year-olds in a music classes,” he said.
“That’s two totally different situations and, quite frankly, I’m just two totally different people.”
Maronde said that after word of him being placed on leave got out, community support poured in quickly.
“It was a horrible week emotionally, but I began hearing from an unbelievable number of people. Phone calls, e-mails, texts, people coming to our door,” he said.
Maronde’s side of the story has clearly resonated with his supporters. Dozens of residents have indicated on Facebook that they want to speak on his behalf at the May 9 meeting.
“I don’t believe Mr. Maronde has done anything wrong,” said Sue Meinecke, who set up the Facebook page and has rallied support for him. “He’s not that kind of person.”
Meinecke, a Grafton village trustee, has two children who attend Woodview School, where she was also taught by Maronde in the 1970s.
“My kids love him, and so do most of the other students,” she said.
Meinecke and other residents at Monday’s meeting said they were happy with the Lightner’s resignation.
“He’s done a lot of harm to the district. The morale among teachers is very low,” Meinecke said.
After Monday’s meeting, Maronde declined to comment on the board’s decision. Although he said he initially planned to speak publicly at the May 9 meeting about getting his teaching and coaching jobs back, that plan may have changed.
“Right now, I’m leaving it up to the community,” he said.
Ziegler said the board may address Maronde’s job status May 9. He declined to say if the board played in a role in the decision to place Maronde on paid administrative leave.
“But I can assure you that the board knew what was happening,” Ziegler said.
Lightner could not be reached for comment.
The May 9 meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Grafton High School library.
LONGTIME GRAFTON TEACHER and coach Bob Maronde was surrounded by supporters at a School Board meeting Monday.Photo by Sam Arendt