A review of hundreds of pages of Milton School District documents provides context to an investigation into administrator compensation now unfolding behind closed doors.
The documents show some payments made to district administrators did not receive approval from the district’s director of business services. They also reveal another payment made to Superintendent Tim Schigur that has not been discussed publicly.
Through an open records request, The Gazette obtained access to:
The documents show payments ranging from $30 to $14,000 were given to district employees for paid time off, promotions, job changes and additional responsibilities.
In February, the school board launched an investigation into stipends given to Schigur, Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz and IT employee Michael Gouvion and whether the approval process violated state law or board policy.
The Gazette obtained new copies of the stipend documents that reveal more information.
The new copies show school board President Tom Westrick recommended that Schigur’s $10,500 compensation for a doctorate he earned in May 2018 be awarded as a one-time payment. Westrick recommended that Schuetz’s $10,000 compensation for additional work and job responsibilities be “spread through rest of year.”
Mary Ellen Van Valin, district director of business services, wrote “not in 2018-19 original budget” on both compensation documents. Her notes were dated Nov. 16, three days after the district stamped the documents as received. Other handwritten notes, dated Nov. 19, give Westrick’s instructions for disbursement of the money.
Van Valin did not sign either document on the line available for the director of business services.
Schuetz on Thursday declined to answer questions about the documents on the advice of legal counsel Shana Lewis, including whether Van Valin’s signature was needed to approve the payments.
Van Valin did sign off on other payment and employment adjustments that were given to administrators, according to the documents.
Human Resources Director Chris Tukiendorf, a human resources specialist, payroll supervisor and payroll specialist all signed off on both stipends.
Another document obtained by The Gazette shows another payment made to Schigur that has not been publicly discussed.
On July 5, 2018, Van Valin wrote a note on a payroll document for Schigur that stated:
“Per my conversation (11:50 a.m.) this morning with Tom Westrick, please pay out Tim for 72 hours of unused 2017-18 vacation time on the July 13 (sic) payroll (update to June). The added work for the referenda warrants this exception.”
The document shows 72 hours of vacation time added up to $4,967. Schigur received that sum in a vacation payout, according to an account distribution report from the district.
Schigur’s contract does not specifically grant payout for unused vacation days. The contract does allow for up to five days of paid time off to be paid out at $100 per day.
Westrick told The Gazette on Thursday he does not remember if he authorized the vacation payment or if the board ever discussed it. He said he did not know whether Schigur’s contract would allow such a payment.
A review of school board minutes from summer 2018 does not show the board discussed paid vacation time for Schigur.
Lewis said she has advised board members and district staff not to discuss the investigation with each other or others. She said additional information will be provided after the investigation is finished.
A hired investigator found that Milton School Board President Tom Westrick violated school board policy—but not state law—when he signed off last fall on a $10,500 stipend to Superintendent Tim Schigur without board review and approval.
Madison-based attorney Lori Lubinsky said Westrick did not “intentionally” break board policy in granting the stipends. Lubinsky was hired last month to investigate three payouts to administrators and a district employee, two of which Westrick approved.
School board members have been advised by legal counsel not to discuss the investigation until Lubinsky says the district can release a full report. The board met in closed session Thursday night to discuss the investigation’s findings and Lubinsky’s report. The board voted 4-3 to discuss the report in closed session.
A crowd of about 50 people waited to learn what the board would disclose publicly. When the board, Lubinsky and the district’s attorney, Shana Lewis, emerged from the two-hour closed session, the board yielded all comment on the report to Lubinsky.
Lubinsky said her investigation found a pair of $10,000 stipends she reviewed, one for Director of Administrative Operations Jerry Schuetz and one for district IT employee Michael Gouvion, were administered properly and “in accordance with board policies,” although she did not give further details about that finding.
She said she also “found no wrongdoing” on the parts of Schigur, Schuetz and Gouvion for accepting the stipends. She said that conclusion was “readily apparent” and based on “substantial” evidence she reviewed during her investigation.
Another part of Lubinsky’s investigation, an examination of board member Brian Kvapil’s release of pay stipends for Schigur, Schuetz and Gouvion, showed Kvapil didn’t break state law in obtaining the records of the stipends from an anonymous source but that he had violated the law by releasing the documents to the media in February without giving the district employees involved a period of time to provide “augmentation notice,” the attorney said.
Lubinsky said Kvapil’s public release of the records was not “intentional.” She said Kvapil did check the rules around releasing records, but she believes he got inaccurate advice on when he was allowed to do so.
She also said her investigation showed Westrick did not “knowingly” break board policy in approving a stipend without board clearance.
“He did not look at the (board) policy and did not refresh himself on the policy” before approving extra pay for Schigur.
Lubinsky did not provide a detailed look into her investigation, and she said at the meeting she wouldn’t speak directly to the media about her report; however, Lubinksy said she would make her full report available to the public via open records requests already made and via the district’s website.
She said her 15-page report would likely be available by March 18. The report must be withheld until then, Lubinsky said, because the law requires a five-day “augmentation” period during which employees named in the report may add their own documentation. She said additional documents would be shared with the public in addition to the full report.
“The details of all of it, I assure you, will be released to the public,” Lubinsky said.
Lubinksy did not say whether Westrick or Kvapil might face any discipline or sanctions. Kvapil told The Gazette “I’d like to comment” on the investigator’s findings but that he “wanted to respect” the advice not to comment until the report is made public.
Westrick left shortly after the meeting adjourned without offering any comment.
Lubinsky said her investigation did not provide a forensic audit of the history of stipends paid to district employees, but she said the payment of stipends is not a new phenomenon within the district.
She suggested the board might learn more about past practices on stipend payouts from a more detailed financial audit. She said her investigation in that sense was “inconclusive” because the “coding” of financial records did not allow her to complete a full analysis.
It wasn’t clear if the board intends to further investigate the district’s past use of stipends.
Last month, the board launched an investigation into $30,500 worth of unbudgeted stipends that were granted in November 2018 to Schigur, Schuetz and Gouvion without board oversight and whether the granting of the stipends violated state law or school board policy.
The investigation came a few days after Kvapil released records of the stipends he said he obtained from an anonymous source.
The district and its attorney in recent days have withheld detailed comment on the investigation pending its conclusion. Some district residents have clamored for the release of the full report.
Documents obtained by The Gazette show Westrick OK’d bonus pay of $10,500 for Schigur as compensation for Schigur earning a doctorate last spring. According to pay documents, Westrick also signed off on a $10,000 stipend for Schuetz that was compensation to be spread throughout the current school year for additional work and responsibilities.
Other board members have said the board never discussed the stipends, and after the stipends became public, Westrick publicly acknowledged he mistakenly granted the extra pay without forwarding it to the board for review and approval.
Schigur’s bonus already was paid out as a stipend, and part of Schuetz’s bonus was paid out, according to district pay records. Westrick has not publicly acknowledged his role in signing off on Schuetz’s stipend.
Schuetz signed off on Gouvion’s stipend—$10,000 in extra pay—according to documents.
Two lives saved, one suspect in custody. Not bad for a day’s work.
Nine Janesville police officers were honored Thursday night for keeping cool heads in perilous circumstances last April 3 on the city’s south side.
They were all called to the scene of a bloody domestic situation and a man with a gun.
The first thing they encountered at 1807 S. Osborne St. was a man with a bloody head wound. Another man had hit him with the butt of a shotgun, said Sgt. Chad Pearson, one of the officers responding to the scene.
Then they heard a woman yelling for help. Through a doorway, they saw Laurie Ruosch bleeding profusely from a wound to the upper thigh, Pearson said.
Officers did not know if the man with the gun was still in the house.
They decided to go get her and formed a “react team,” as they had been trained to do, Pearson said.
They dragged the woman out of the house and took cover alongside a car in the driveway, where two officers applied a tourniquet, Pearson said.
The car was no shield. Bullets can penetrate a car, so the officers considered themselves still in peril. Other officers stood by with assault weapons pointed at the house to respond to any threat.
Ruosch had been shot at close range, probably by a slug from a shotgun, Pearson said. She was awake and told the officers who shot her.
But she was losing consciousness. Color faded from her face, Pearson recalled. Her responses slowed. She became disoriented.
Janesville paramedics in tactical gear took over, and doctors later told them they probably saved the woman’s life, Pearson said.
They learned later that Dennis J. McNeal, 57, the man charged in the assaults, had left just before police arrived.
A report of someone breaking into a car in the neighborhood led to McNeal’s arrest.
Pearson, Sgt. Jimmy Holford III and officers Eric Grahn, Steven Carpenter, Brian Foster, Drew Severson, Justin Stubbendick and Alex Wasemiller all received the Meritorious Service Citation for their roles in the save.
“It’s incredible how that training does come to the forefront of your thought process during a dynamic situation and how valuable that becomes,” Pearson said.
Training includes role-playing situations and classroom and table-top exercises.
“It’s beneficial for us in making those split-second decisions,” Pearson said.
Another officer is credited in the same incident with quick sleuthing to find a second woman who had been struck in the head with a cast-iron candlestick.
The woman left the house and went down the street to another house. She was Ruosch’s daughter, Brenda Ruosch.
Officer Chad Woodman received the Exemplary Service Citation for his work that day.
Woodman found a phone number for the victim’s daughter. He called the number, and a person on the receiving end assured him everything was OK. But Woodman sensed otherwise.
“He followed his instinct and decided to check on the welfare of those at the victim’s daughter’s home,” the citation reads.
Woodman and officer Alex Erlien had to force entry into the residence, where they found Brenda. Paramedics administered life-saving measures, saving her life, too, according to the citation.
All in all, the episode included a series of actions by local police that most would call heroic.
“It’s a humbling feeling that what we’re doing serves a purpose,” Pearson said.
The U.S. government kept a database on journalists, activists, organizers and “instigators” during an investigation into last year’s migrant caravan, infuriating civil liberties and media groups who called it a blatant violation of free speech rights.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection compiled information on dozens of people that included passport and social media photos, dates of birth, personal information, and their suspected role in the caravan. Some of the people on the list were denied entry into Mexico and had their passports flagged or visas revoked.
On Thursday, officials said the department’s independent watchdog was looking into the database and stressed that journalists were not targeted based on their occupation or reporting.
“CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists,” said Andrew Meehan, assistant commissioner of public affairs.
The database was revealed Wednesday by San Diego TV station KNSD. People listed in the documents provided to the station included 10 journalists, many of whom are U.S. citizens, and an American attorney. There were several dozen people in all on the list, including many labeled as “instigators.”
The intelligence-gathering efforts were done as part of “Operation Secure Line,” which was designed to monitor the caravan of thousands of people who began making their way north from Central America last year to seek asylum in the United States.
The government compiled the database at a time when the caravan was attracting considerable attention in the White House around the midterm elections, with President Trump repeatedly tweeting about the group.
Customs and Border Protection officials said extra security was implemented after a breach of a border wall in San Diego on Nov. 25 in a violent confrontation between caravan members and border agents. The confrontation closed the nation’s busiest border crossing for five hours on Thanksgiving weekend.
Officials said it was protocol to follow up on such incidents to collect evidence and determine whether the event was orchestrated.
Such “criminal events ... involving assaults on law enforcement and a risk to public safety, are routinely monitored and investigated by authorities,” according to a statement from Customs and Border Protection.
“CBP will continue to maintain a high standard of accountability and transparency with the media and public,” Meehan said.
Lawyers and immigrant rights groups were going back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico late last year to help thousands of people who arrived at the border manage a complicated, clogged asylum process and to help provide humanitarian aid as conditions worsened and illness spread. Journalists from several news organizations were also there to chronicle the story.
Bing Guan, a freelance journalist from New York and student at the International Center of Photography, said he and a colleague were stopped by U.S. agents while returning from Tijuana in December. A plainclothes agent who didn’t identify his agency showed Guan a multi-page document with dozens of photos and asked him to identify people in the images. The agent then asked Guan to show him the photos he had taken in Tijuana.
Guan said the report of the dossiers confirmed the long-held suspicions he and other journalists had.
“It’s sort of a weird combination of paranoia and pride,” Guan said. “Paranoia because our own government is conducting these intelligence-gathering tactics and these patterns of harassment in order to deter journalists from doing their jobs, but also a little bit of pride because I feel like I’m on the right track,” Guan said.
Two House Democrats asked CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan for any instructions to officers on the 59 people named, an explanation of why they were included and how often they were stopped for additional questioning.
“The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights,” wrote Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Kathleen Rice of New York, who both serve on the Homeland Security Committee.
The database was denounced by a variety of groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The database was built at a time of increasingly tense relations between the Trump administration and journalists, with Trump calling some members of the press the “enemy of the people.” There has also been an increase in false news stories proliferating on social media on both the left and right.
The Department of Homeland Security last year sought a contractor to monitor more than 290,000 news sources and social media around the world in several languages and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents and bloggers. DHS officials said the aim was to gather open-source information, not unlike alerts the public can set up through email.
And according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Nation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another part of Homeland Security, tracked a series of anti-Trump protests in New York City last year, including several that promoted immigrants’ rights and one organized by a member of Congress.
The caravan documents, dated Jan. 9, are titled “San Diego Sector Foreign Operations Branch: Migrant Caravan FY-2019, Suspected Organizers, Coordinators, Instigators and Media.” According to the San Diego station, the material was used by Homeland Security and other agencies, including some FBI agents.
One dossier was on Nicole Ramos, the refugee director and attorney for Al Otro Lado, a law center for migrants and refugees in Tijuana, Mexico. It included details such as the kind of car she drives and her mother’s name, KNSD-TV reported.
A photographer working for The Associated Press was also on the list.
The Mexican government, which denied entry to some of the people in the database, said it disapproved of spying and didn’t do “illegal surveillance.” Mexican officials also said they would ask the U.S. to clarify any possible cases of “illegal spying.”
“Mexico welcomes all foreign visitors who, obeying immigration laws, carry out in our territory tourism or professional activities,” according to a joint statement from the Foreign Relations Department and the Department of Security and Citizen Protection.