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Investigations demonstrate new Janesville School District attitude

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
August 23, 2010
— There’s a new way of dealing with employee misconduct in the Janesville School District, and those who don’t get on board risk serious consequences—which could include losing their jobs.

That’s from Superintendent Karen Schulte, who put substance to those words this summer, ending a principal’s employment and demoting another employee.


“We are asking staff to rise to a certain standard of behavior. If staff choose not to do that, they will not remain in the School District of Janesville,” Schulte said in an interview Friday.


At the same time, Schulte said her purpose in firing Principal John Walczak and demoting TAGOS Academy Dean Al Lindau was not to send a message.


But Schulte said she will continue to deal with employee misconduct in the same way.


“Absolutely. If we have staff that come forward with concerns, yes, we will investigate.”


Schulte took unprecedented steps this spring when she put the men on paid leave and opened investigations into allegations they had made sexually suggestive remarks to fellow staff members.


Lindau returned to work after one week. Walczak never returned.


The difference in those two outcomes indicates the magnitude of the offenses, Schulte said.


The Janesville Gazette filed open-records requests in both cases and received documents after a legal process that is required when personnel records of public employees are requested.


Schulte said she’s sure the district’s investigations were thorough and that she had clear pictures of the two men’s behavior before she took action.


“Absolutely. There’s no question in my mind,” she said.


In the Walczak case, every Jackson School employee was interviewed, Schulte said.


“And stories were consistent. I felt the facts we were given were very clear.”


Schulte said it was clear from the beginning that both cases were serious.


“I would not remove a person from their position just capriciously, without thought, because I understand the magnitude of what that means to a person’s career, so I would have to have some good, really reliable information before I do that, and I typically wouldn’t do that on a first-offense kind of thing” unless the first offense was particularly flagrant, Schulte said.


“I’m not out to get people or to ruin people’s careers, not by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.


Schulte said she and her advisers spent hours going over these cases, paying particular attention to legal and ethical implications.


“When we are dealing with information that could be detrimental to a person’s career, we work very closely with our attorneys, and we follow their recommendations,” she said.


Schulte said it’s important to keep secret the identities of people who make complaints and private information about those who are accused.


In the case of the accused, it’s a balancing test between being accountable to the public and protecting privacy, Schulte said.


Schulte noted that all staff members review a sexual-harassment video each year.


Schulte has gone further with administrators. She brought in an attorney to talk to them about “moral turpitude,” and she has followed up with occasional lectures of her own.


“So we hit it more than once with our administrators. We reminded them that they are public officials, so what they do—in and out of their buildings—the public is interested. So they need to maintain professional behavior,” Schulte said.


Schulte said it’s possible to offend someone without realizing it. She said it’s up to those offended to speak up and let the person know. She has warned other employees about their conduct and expects that is enough to correct the problem.


“We talk to people, try to set them on the right path if they veer from it,” she said.


“But there comes a point where, if inappropriate behavior is repeated, we have to act.”



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