After listening to passionate comments from residents for more than an hour and then deliberating another hour, the School Board decided Monday night to retain Rachel Boechler as district administrator.
The vote to extend Boechler's contract for two more years came after parents called on her to resign following a newspaper article that said she failed to report an affair between a student and teacher when she was a counselor in Wauwatosa in the early 1990s.
“In this age of Penn State, the Catholic church, I just cannot imagine in Fox Point-Bayside School we have a leader of the entire school that did not protect a minor when that individual needed to be protected,” said. “I just want the board to do their job and seek your resignation.”
“I am shocked that this woman was hired by this board,” said Luise Fuzy, another parent in the district and one of about 50 at Monday's meeting. “This was morally reprehensible. It was wrong in any state by any standard.”
Resident Karyn Brod simply told the board: “I’m just disgusted."
After the meeting, School Board President Michael Weiss defended Boechler and the district's decision to retain her.
“We do not feel it would be appropriate to request her resignation or non-renew her contract based on our understanding of the events that happened 20 years ago," Weiss said. "Dr. Boechler came to us highly recommended by her previous employers and she has not disappointed us. She has proven to be an excellent administrator in a very difficult educational environment."
Earlier this month, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice reported that Boechler did not immediately report an affair between a 16-year-old student and a married, 28-year-old teacher when she worked as a counselor at Wauwatosa East High School.
In 1993, Boechler was told by the student that she was having a sexual relationship with the teacher. According to the article, Boechler was led to believe the teen was actually 18 years old and so she did not report the affair to a school official, but only her superior – who was not a school official, according to Weiss.
“It is important to remember that the Wauwatosa School District handled this matter according to its own procedures 20 years ago and we've been advised Dr. Boechler did report the matter to her supervisors at the time," Weiss said.
Are teachers afraid of superintendent?
In addition to concerns about how Boechler handled the incident in Wauwatosa, issues also were raised Monday night about her management style.
Mark Conforti, chief negotiator for the district's teachers union, said Boechler instills fear in employees.
"Sorry, I'm not supposed to speak, but as a teacher in the district, you can't tell us how we're supposed to feel," Conforti said. "It makes (teachers) quite fearful to feel like if you do speak, as I am now, that there will be a target on your back."
Other residents said they also had heard from teachers that staff morale and that faculty was afraid of Boechler. But board member Timothy Melchert said he feels the level of fear in this district is less than in others.
"We have lots of opportunities to hear complaints, to ask questions and this just has not been a widespread concern," Melchert said. "Certainly, we are going to monitor it however because that's critical to the well-function of the school."
Applause erupted following comments along those lines made by dozens of concerned parents. But amid the controversy, one resident and teacher defended Boechler, suggesting that residents and the board did not have the entire picture.
"I have no fear," said, Twilia Bergeron, a music teacher at . "I don't fear for my job. The reason I don't is because I don't think there's anybody on the School Board or anybody in the administration who wants to get me."
Board shows strong support for Boechler
And despite the throng of cutting comments that continued from the audience, Weiss stood by Boechler and even defended her, reciting her list of career accomplishments following her time at Wauwatosa East, including her time in California.
“She wasn’t run out of the state,” he said. “My personal opinion is I think there’s some unfair assumptions being made. There’s an assumption that because this happened it has to be her fault and that was exactly what the article was designed to make you think.
"I think it is unfair to say 'I don’t care what the facts are' because what she knew, when she knew it and who she told, is relevant," Weiss added.
Board member Eliz Greene echoed Weiss' sentiments about Boechler's competence as a district administrator and said she believes Boechler is taking the district in the right direction.
"As we sit in the meetings, we're dealing with very difficult and complex decisions going forward that are really going to affect the future of our district and it's critical to have a superintendent who understands all the nuances of all those different moving pieces," she said. "And we are confident that Rachel is the person to lead us into the future."
Melchert said this was the first he had really heard of concern over Boechler's leadership style, but thinks things will be just fine.
"Certainly, that's an important concern for the board and we will monitor that," he said. "The concerns that we heard are vague and they come not from a large number of faculty We're all parents in the school district and I think all of us have good relations with the teachers."
As parents and teachers peppered Boechler with criticism, the superintendent remained silent throughout, keeping her eyes down on the paper in front of her.
After the meeting ended, however, Boechler talked to Patch about the concerns raised Monday.
"Some of this is the first time I've heard this," she said. "I am aware there's fear in the faculty. There's fear because they don't know what their salaries will be, they don't know what benefits will be, they don't know what next year will look like.
"I don't believe I've ever done anything to create fear in people," she said. "In fact, tried to do just the opposite."