Complaint alleges suburban Milwaukee school board violated open meetings law

Whitnall School Board members have allegedly been conducting business in private Facebook group

A row of school lockers.
School lockers in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Four members of the Whitnall School Board are being investigated for allegedly violating Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. 

LuAnn Bird, a Hales Corner resident, filed the complaint last month with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. Bird is running as a Democrat for Wisconsin’s 61st Assembly District.

The complaint alleges school board President Jason Craig, Vice President Cassie Rainer, Clerk Rachel Scherrer and Treasurer Karen Mikolainis conducted board business on the private Facebook group “Whitnall Watchdog” starting in April 2023.

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The Whitnall School Board has seven members. Four members conducting business would be quorum, a violation of state open meetings law. 

The Whitnall School District is located in southwestern Milwaukee County and serves about 2,500 students from Franklin, Greenfield and Hales Corners.

According to Bird’s complaint, several high-profile discussions were conducted by Craig, Rainer, Scherrer and Mikolainis in the private Facebook group, including former Superintendent Lisa Olson’s contract, open enrollment and a controversial student pronoun proposal.

“I could tell right away there were a lot of red flags on how a couple of board members are doing business,” said Bird, who served on the Whitnall School Board for about four years until 2017 .

“It just seemed illegal to me, based on how much I knew about open meetings law, and at the very least it’s unethical,” she added. “You don’t build public trust as an elected official by doing business outside the public sphere.”

Rainer called the complaint a meritless, baseless “publicity stunt” meant to cause division within the community before the April 2 school board election.

“This complaint is defamatory and a clear attack on First Amendment rights,” Rainer wrote in an email to WPR. “This complaint purports multiple falsehoods as fact to try to damage and cause harm to others and to myself. I urge you to not amplify defamation, or serve as a party to it.”

Scherrer, a former teacher in the district who is now an educator in another district, called the complaint “heartbreaking.”

She said she joined hundreds of Facebook groups, including “Whitnall Watchdog,” while campaigning. Scherrer said she posted twice about her daughter’s dance team and never conducted board business.

“To me, this seems like a political stunt. And every time I address it, it’s like a rubber band; they just keep going back to it,” Scherrer said, adding she doesn’t even vote with the other board members mentioned in the complaint.

“The thing that scares me is as an educator, I worked so hard to get to where I am, I’m worried that this could affect where I am,” Scherrer said. “I wish people, before they wrote this false complaint, would have thought about me and what I dedicated my life to.”

Craig and Mikolainis did not respond to requests for comment.

Last year, Bird started her own group, “WREN: Whitnall Resident Engagement Network,” after the school board considered a proposal that would forbid school staff from using students’ chosen names and pronouns without written permission from their guardians. 

The proposal did not move forward.

Discussions on Facebook group 

According to Bird’s complaint, before the Sept. 11, 2023, school board meeting regarding gender identification, Mikolainis discussed the plan on the private Facebook group with parents.

The complaint also alleges school board members were planning to fire former Superintendent Lisa Olson.

Board President Craig called for the Whitnall Watchdog group to meet in person on Oct. 1, according to the complaint. Bird said she believes that’s when board members began planning to oust Olson.

On Oct. 31, 2023, Mikolainis emailed Craig requesting to add the non-renewal to the board’s Nov. 13 closed session agenda. In a follow-up email, she asked the word “superintendent” be removed to be “less specific and more graceful,” according to the complaint. 

Olson announced her retirement in November, effective in January. She was replaced by interim Superintendent Ed Brzinski in January, who announced that same month he would resign. 

Kristen Taylor is now serving as interim superintendent through June. 

When reached Monday, Taylor said she is aware of the complaint, but does not have any information. 

“We will of course comply with any legal inquiries resulting from this complaint,” Taylor said. 

Meanwhile, the Whitnall School Board has announced three finalists for superintendent.

Bird’s attorney, Michael Maistelman, said these types of discussions in secret are “anathema to the democratic form of government.”

Bird said she believes other school boards could be doing the same thing and hopes other communities will take notice.

“I don’t have a problem with school board members having their own agendas,” Bird said. “What the problem is, is when they are rounding up support in private and the public doesn’t know what they’re doing. It’s a public trust issue.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include that LuAnn Bird is running for Wisconsin’s 61st Assembly District.