ONALAKSA — Onalaska School Board member Jake Speed could soon be running against a familiar face.

Deanna Verdon, who was elected to the school board in 2014 but did not run for a second term this year, has expressed interest in running against Speed as a recall candidate. Verdon is a teacher at Holmen’s Viking Elementary School and works with at-risk special education children.

After she left the board, Verdon said she felt as though she had done a lot of good things during her time and is in interested in going back.

“I think we need people on the board whose number one concern is the students and the community,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any other agenda.”

Onalaska resident Justin Steele is spearheading an effort to recall Speed, who has clashed with board members over topics such as his romantic history with Northern Hills Elementary teacher Allison Pratt, conduct on school grounds and at board meetings, and an allegation he made and then later retracted that the district was sending him malicious files in email attachments. Speed has repeatedly refused to speak with media, which he has dismissed as “fake news.”

In response to a request from the Tribune, the district recently provided a copy of an email exchange between Speed and school board President Ann Garrity from May of last year. Garrity, citing a perceived conflict of interest, declined Speed’s request to be on the Employee Handbook Committee due to his relationship with Pratt, the former teachers union president.

Speed took issue with the decision, denying that he had a relationship with Pratt, who owns the property on Kramer Road that Speed has listed as his residence and business address. He demanded Garrity put him on the Legislative Committee. He also refused requests to participate in new board member orientation, work with his board mentor, Brian Haefs, and told Garrity he would not participate in the Tax Incremental Financing Committee she assigned him to.

“I have my own brain and can decide what is best for me,” Speed wrote in one email. “You are not going to control my thoughts or life the way this board thinks it can the staffs.”

Speed interviewed Pratt in a 2008 episode of his now-defunct podcast, “Hermetic Politics,” which has 10 episodes and 49 followers on Blog Talk Radio. In that podcast, he called Pratt his significant other and interviewed her about her experiences with teacher education and the district.

The full board, including Verdon, voted unanimously to censure Speed in April. On April 25, a year after Speed was formally sworn in as a board member, a Facebook page and website Recall Jake Speed appeared online and began work to judge the community’s thoughts about a potential recall.

In a post Steele made to the recall site on Tuesday, he wrote there have been more than 1,400 visitors to the website and the Facebook page had received more than 142 pages likes by Thursday evening. More than 115 people have provided address information to the recall effort, and a self-selected survey on the site garnered more than 116 responses with 95 percent of respondents saying there were in favor of recalling Speed and would vote if a recall election is held.

In order for a recall election to take place, the movement would need to gather 1,743 signatures from residents of the Onalaska School District within a 60-day time period. But the clock won’t start ticking until someone files petition paperwork with the district.

According to Onalaska Superintendent Fran Finco, no paperwork had been filed by the end of the day on Thursday. According to Steele, the plan is to continue to talk with Onalaska residents, especially those not connected to social media, before moving forward with the recall effort.

“With a potential candidate, it makes sense to continue efforts to gauge support,” he said.

“I think we need people on the board whose number one concern is the students and the community. There shouldn’t be any other agenda.” Deanna Verdon, former Onalaska
School Board member

Nathan Hansen has been the Education Reporter for the Tribune since 2014. Prior to that, he covered education, agriculture and business topics for the Winona Daily News. He is always on the lookout for news tips and can be contacted at 608-791-8234.

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