ONALASKA — The Onalaska School Board formally disciplined one of its own Monday night.
Board members unanimously agreed to censure Jake Speed, who recused himself from the vote.
“We have every right to do this,” board clerk Brian Haefs said, “and, in fact, I think we have an obligation to our kids to.”
Tension has been building between Speed and the rest of the board for months.
Last month Speed claimed to a local radio station that the school district illegally spent $3,500 on attorney’s fees. The district contacted their attorneys because, a month earlier, Speed told the same radio station that he filed a complaint with the FBI and La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke over malfeasance in the district.
“No such complaint has ever been filed,” Haefs said Monday night.
It is not illegal for school districts to spend money on attorneys, and Speed last October voted in favor of the district’s 2017 operating budget, which allocated $65,000 for legal advice.
“The board of education values diverse opinions but expects board members to conduct themselves in manners that are consistent with their oath of office,” Haefs said.
Haefs initiated the censure Monday night by handing out a sheet of paper with a written statement to all board members. While Haefs read from the sheet, Speed occasionally shook his head, once looking up to Haefs, who was sitting directly to his right, and chuckling.
Speed thanked the district for their action.
“I appreciate all of this,” he said, “for the simple fact that you guys are now proving that you’re trying to silence the things that I’ve been trying to do.”
He further stated that the board violated open meetings laws, skipped necessary procedures by not running the decision through an ethics committee and then accused the board of denying him his “due process.”
“If you guys spent as much time working on solving the problems as you do covering them up, there wouldn’t be any problems,” Speed said, later adding, “You’ve got the public buffaloed, absolutely buffaloed on the stuff that’s going on around here.”
Censuring Speed does not jeopardize his place on the board.
April 25 will mark the one-year anniversary of Speed taking his spot on Onalaska’s School Board. He won the April 5, 2016, election after challenging the validity of incumbents Ann Garrity and Tim Smaby’s nomination papers. The Government Accountability Board granted Speed’s challenge, and so removed Garrity and Smaby’s names from the ballot, leaving just the La Crosse Tea Party founder’s name on the ballot.
The school board convened in closed session after the censure vote Monday night, but Speed didn’t stay. On his way out of Onalaska High School, when asked if he cared to comment, Speed said: “Dude, I don’t talk to fake news.”
Speed has refused to speak to the La Crosse Tribune and Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life multiple times, calling them fake news and once saying that he had slipped, fallen on ice, bit his tongue and was unable to speak.
School Board President Ann Garrity stood by the board’s decision.
“When people Google or when they think about the school district of Onalaska, I don’t want them to think, ‘Oh, the board is crazy.’ I want them to go, ‘Hey, Onalaska is a blue-ribbon school,’ and, ‘Hey, we have 50 kids out doing amazing things in the community.’ That’s what we’re about,” she said.