Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 20 April 2011 18:01
PW-S educator who took retirement deal faced firing over alleged incidents
A veteran Port Washington-Saukville School District teacher who accepted a $20,000 retirement settlement was accused by administrators of leaving a 7-year-old student with severe cognitive disabilities unattended outside on several occasions, according to documents recently released by the district.
Jean Gorski was suspended with pay in January and retired on March 7 after administrators recommended she be fired for failing to properly care for a disabled student.
Gorski challenged the recommendation and requested a hearing before the School Board in March. That hearing, however, was cancelled when Gorski and the board agreed to a settlement.
Pending at the time was a claim Gorski filed with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division accusing the district of discriminating against her because of her age and disability.
The district denies it discriminated against Gorski and stated, “The district investigated Gorski’s conduct and performance in her position with the district and has concerns with respect to her conduct and performance,” according to the settlement
document obtained by Ozaukee Press through an open records request.
Gorski denies any “unacceptable conduct or poor performance,” according to the settlement.
Contacted last week at her Fox Point home, Gorski declined to comment on accusations she did not properly care for students. The latest document obtained by Ozaukee Press details the accusations against Gorski, who was hired by the district
in 1994 and was assigned to two special-education students at Lincoln Elementary School when she was suspended.
Gorski was accused of leaving one of her students unattended on three occasions beginning in September despite instructions from Principal Eric Burke that the student was not to be left alone while walking between the school bus and his classroom.
The 7-year-old student has cognitive disabilities and functions at the level of a 2 or 3-year-old, according to the district’s investigative report.
On Jan. 6, Gorski left the student unattended in the hallway and was reminded by Burke that the child was not to be left alone, according to the report.
The next day, Burke found the student, who appeared confused, alone outside on a sidewalk near one of the school’s parking lots. The temperature at the time was 14 degrees with a wind chill of 1 degree, cold enough that outside recesses were cancelled that day, the report states.
When confronted by Burke, Gorski did not offer an explanation and apologized, according to the report. But in a voice mail message left for Burke the next day, Gorski said she arranged to have a paraprofessional make sure the child got on the bus safely.
The paraprofessional said she didn’t speak to Gorski about the child and was in Burke’s office talking to him when the alleged exchange with Gorski took place, which Burke confirmed, according to the report.
Gorski’s attorney, Thomas Lenz, declined to comment on the case but directed Ozaukee Press to the discrimination complaint his client filed against the district on Oct. 19.
In that complaint, which has been dismissed because of a lack of proof, Gorski, 64, accused the district trying to force her to retire because of her age and disability. She had a knee replaced and suffers from arthritis, the complaint states.
Gorski said she requested an “accommodation” from the district in 2008 to comply with her doctor’s order to “avoid unusual high risk activities such as restraining violent or disruptive students who could easily kick her in the knee,” according to the complaint.
Following that request, Gorski claimed, the district repeatedly asked her to retire and shuffled her to different schools.
State investigators determined Gorski failed to show probable cause she was discriminated against and closed the case on April 11.
According to the settlement:
The district will pay Gorski $8,588 for attorney’s fees, $6,411 in wages and $5,000 to be converted into sick days that will be used as payments toward her dental benefits. The money will come from funds that were budgeted to pay her salary and benefits, Supt. Michael Weber said.
The district will provide Gorski with one year of family health insurance coverage and three years of Medicare supplemental insurance as called for under the 2009-11 master contract agreement.
The district will also “provide a mutually agreeable factual letter of reference.”
Weber said the board agreed to the settlement to avoid paying additional attorney’s fees and to end a dispute that was usurping administrators’ time.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 13 April 2011 17:11
Port officials will turn to contingency fund to keep program operating this year
The City of Port Washington will lose about $12,000 in state recycling grant funding this year due to reductions in the Department of Natural Resources’ budget for 2011, City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday.
But Grams said Tuesday he does not expect the city will eliminate or reduce its recycling program.
“I think we can scrounge up $12,000 to take care of it,” he said, noting the recycling program is something that residents consider important.
The city receives about $30,000 in recycling grant money from the state each year — money Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating completely from the 2011-13 budget.
But last week’s announcement that grant money included in the city’s 2011 budget was to be trimmed was a surprise, Grams said.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “I don’t think anyone had any inkling it was coming. But, we’ll just have to live with it.”
The City of Port Washington, which spends $137,000 annually to recycle, collected 891 tons of recyclables last year, much of it glass and newspaper. It also collected 2,185 tons of trash.
The grant money is paid to communities in late spring or early summer.
Grams noted that funds to cover the loss of the grant money could come from the city’s contingency fund, which has about $15,000 in it, or from savings in other line items.
Written by Bill Schanen IV
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 17:14
District accepts record number of 112 applications from families who want their children to attend local schools
The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday approved a record number of open enrollment requests from parents who want to send their children to Port-Saukville schools.
The board accepted 112 of the 114 incoming requests. It denied applications for two students — a special-education pupil and a child seeking placement in the early childhood peer program — because there is not enough room in those programs.
The board also approved 72 of the 75 requests from parents who live in the district and want to send their children to other schools. Applications for three special-education students were denied because of financial concerns.
Wisconsin’s open enrollment program allows parents to send their children to any public school in the state provided both the incoming and outgoing districts approve the applications, which must be submitted in February.
Districts can refuse to accept non-resident students if they do not have room in a particular grade level or program to accommodate that child or for disciplinary reasons.
Districts can also refuse to allow resident special education students to leave the district if the departure would cause a financial burden for the resident district, which is responsible for special education costs regardless of where the child is educated.
Supt. Michael Weber noted that approving the 112 incoming applications doesn’t mean the district will have that many new students when the 2011-12 school year begins in September. Parents still may opt to keep their children in their current schools or send them to other districts. Several parents who applied to the Port Washington-Saukville
School District also applied to other school systems, Weber said.
“How much of this actually happens remains to be seen,” he said.
The district’s experience is indicative of a flurry of open enrollment activity throughout the state this year, Weber said.
“What we’re seeing is a reflection of the popularity of open enrollment and the desire of parents to have choices in where their children are educated,” said Weber, who was a
member of the state’s open-enrollment planning committee when the program was created 13 years ago.
The number of applications received by the district this year is more than double the number it typically receives.
Usually the number of incoming and outgoing applications are roughly equal. This year, the district received 52% more incoming applications than outgoing.
Of the incoming applications, 64 (56%) were submitted by residents of the Northern Ozaukee School District in Fredonia.
Weber said the fact that 17 non-resident students have applied for admission to the district’s 4-year-old preschool program is telling, noting that a child’s resident district must
offer the same program under the open enrollment law.
“Since they have to be coming from districts that offer the same program, that’s a pretty good indication of the desire of parents to have their children educated in this district,” he said.
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 17:56
Incumbent Heatwole vies for supervisor seat along with challengers Didier, Rychtik
Town of Port Washington residents will bring some new blood to the Town Board in the April 5 election when two supervisors are elected.
Incumbent Scott Heatwole and newcomers Michael Didier and James Rychtik Jr. are vying for two seats on the board.
“I’m quite delighted there is interest in the seat,” Heatwole said. “The more interest the better. I would love to see more people at meetings, too.”
Jim Melichar, who served as a supervisor for the past decade, is not seeking re-election but instead challenging Town Chairman Lee Schlenvogt for his seat. A story about that race ran in last week’s Ozaukee Press.
All three men seeking the supervisor’s seat on the board said they want to give back to the community in which they have lived for much of their lives.
One of the major challenges facing government today is dealing with ever-tightening budgets.
The town is expected to lose 37.4% of its state shared revenue and 3% of its transportation aid under Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill. While the total amount is relatively small — $11,841 — it’s a significant loss in a community with an annual budget of $547,000 and a tax levy of $450,000.
“The Town of Port doesn’t have many services,” Didier noted. “You can raise fees, but that’s the same as raising taxes to me, and that’s not something I’d look to do.”
A significant amount of the town’s budget is devoted to road work, and Didier said the town should look at privatizing this service instead of automatically hiring the Ozaukee County Highway Department.
“You have to open it up for bids,” he said. “I think privatizing that might be something in the town’s future. I don’t see how the county can compete with private companies.”
The Highway Department charges the town for its actual cost to maintain roads, including snowplowing.
At a recent meeting, Didier said, he was surprised when Highway Supt. Bob Dreblow explained that plow operators earn time-and-a-half for snow removal operations that occur outside the standard 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours Mondays through Fridays. The county should adjust the workweek so these employees get time off during the day if they’re plowing early in the morning or late at night so they don’t get paid overtime, he said.
That would reduce the town’s cost significantly, he said.
Rychtik, whose sister is Town Clerk Jennifer Schlenvogt, agreed that the town should privatize road services, including snowplowing, ditch cutting and fixing culverts and downed signs.
Too often, he said, town residents are inconvenienced when roads aren’t plowed immediately and they need to get to work. With a private service, the residents may be able to get a quicker response.
“If you could do it for even a small savings, it would be worth it because residents would be happier,” Rychtik said.
Heatwole said that the township should look at all its options to contain costs, including privatizing roads.
“We’ve talked to the county and talked to them about their bills,” he said. “I think we’ll probably look at all our options, but right now we don’t have any data.”
The town is in good shape to weather the cuts in state aid, Heatwole said.
“We’ve been very responsible for a lot of years,” he said. “Our roads are in good shape.”
Because of that, the town can postpone roadwork for a few years to help conserve funds, he said.
“You wouldn’t want to do it for 10 years, but you can do it for a year or two or three,” Heatwole said.
Rychtik said the town should also explore sharing services, such as the planner and engineer with neighboring communities such as the Village of Saukville.
The town should also examine whether it truly needs the town planner to attend as many meetings as he does, Rychtik said.
“It seems like we can’t do anything in the town without the planner at the meeting,” he said.
Didier concurred, saying the town should look into having the planner attend via teleconferencing or scale back his meeting attendance, perhaps having him attend half the sessions instead of all of them.
Didier and Rychtik also said they want to see the town streamline its review and approval processes.
“They seem to over-analyze things a bit,” Didier said. “They come to the right conclusions, but it takes a long time.”
He believes strongly in property rights, Didier said, and would look at things with that perspective.
“I think we should look for reasons to say yes, not to say no,” he said.
The town should have a letter to present to people seeking approval that outlines the costs and time frame they are looking at, Rychtik said.
Although the proposed state budget would remove the recycling mandate, all three candidates said the town should continue its recycling center.
“If at any point we can recycle things, we should,” Heatwole said. “People are trained to do it, and they should.”
The town should poll its residents to make sure it’s something they value, Rychtik added.
Didier said he has attended a number of town meetings and doesn’t anticipate any major changes if he is elected.
“When all is said and done, they’re going in the right direction,” he said. “The land-use plan and zoning code seem to make sense to me.”
Rychtik said the town needs to remain business-friendly, adding that officials should visit each company in the township at least annually to touch base and see if anything can be done to help them so they remain in the community.
“I think we just need to continue to do good planning,” Heatwole said. “Give the town the best economic planning we can and make it a business-friendly place for people. We’re trying to do that and still maintain the rural character of the town.”