MONROE — Following a massive 1,700-person spectacle of a special meeting of the electors vote on March 8, the School District of Monroe and Board of Education suffered a pair of blows just hours apart. First, a potential site for the new high school was turned down, and the following morning, board member Teri Ellefson resigned.
The site the electorate turned down was a proposed 70-acre location on County DR north of town. Overwhelmingly, by a near 2-to-1 margin, the site was voted down. More than 1,500 people cast a ballot in the special meeting, with another 200 entering the MHS doors. At moments, the meeting seemed to be bound to go off the rails before ever-so-carefully being corrected and parliamentary procedures properly followed.
The vote came after nearly three months of growing vitriol around the community. About a month after the $88 million referendum passed in November 2022, tax bills came out higher than expected by much of the populace.
A group was created on social media hoping to bring more transparency to the Board. While the group has repeatedly tried to remain stoic and have productive discourse, some individuals have gone off course and made it personal.
At 5:39 a.m. on March 9, Board member Teri Ellefson emailed Board of Education president Rich Deprez her immediate resignation.
Deprez read the statement at the March 13 school board meeting, which shocked many in attendance.
“Over the past 4 months, individuals, or the Board as a whole, have received a death threat, harassment towards our children, threats towards our businesses,” she wrote, “statements saying we are disgracing our family name, and even comments as low as saying that our deceased family members would be disappointed in us.”
Ellefson spent two years on the board. She has dedicated her life to work with students and their mental health in the surrounding area after losing her son, Jacob, to suicide in 2012. She and her husband, Kurt, created the Jacob SWAG Foundation, and a few years ago released the Got Your Back app, which helps support those that are struggling with mental health issues, like suicidal thoughts.
“Yes, we are elected officials who represent our schools, but first and foremost, we are people. We are individuals, community members, parents, and employees, who have done nothing but represent our community and offer respect and kindness to those that have blatantly attacked us,” Ellefson continued. “After the events of Wednesday night, after the utmost disrespectful actions towards the Board of Education, I am choosing to resign from my position. I need to put my mental and physical health first. I will continue to serve school districts and youth on a different level. A level that does not harm my mental health. A level that offers hope and support to many.”
The statement in full can be read in the box below.
Five members of the public signed up to speak during public comment, all appalled by what they had just heard, and all offered their support and gratitude to the Board and school staff and administration.
“I had no intention of speaking tonight,” said Monroe mother Theresa Robertson, fighting back tears, “until you opened with Teri’s letter. To hear those words coming from Teri Ellefson, who is someone that deserves our community’s utmost respect, is devastating.”
“I had no intention of speaking tonight ... until you opened with Teri’s letter. To hear those words coming from Teri Ellefson, who is someone that deserves our community’s utmost respect, is devastating.”— Theresa Robertson, Monroe
Robertson said that she knows what Ellefson and her husband have been through.
“… [A]nd to see what they have come through that, and done for our community,” Robertson said. “That she came onto this board with the intention of helping the community even more, and that she was given the disrespect that forced us to lose her as a board member, is the fear that I have most out of the conduct that has been coming out of our community.”
Among those to speak were former board member Brian Keith, Monroe Alderperson Mary Jane Grenzow, and Green County Clerk of Arianna Voegeli.
“The bottom line is, on Wednesday I saw the biggest level of disrespect I have seen in Monroe in 20 years since I moved back here,” Keith said, who previously served 10 years on the board. “I know what it takes to sit up there, and what you guys do is the most selfless, volunteer job that there is in Monroe. You don’t get paid. You don’t get a per-meeting stipend. You don’t get anything for the board. You’re doing it because you care.”
He said that he understands there are differing opinions on the referendum debate.
“And that’s OK. That’s society. But there’s got to be civility. There has to be an opportunity to have discourse and have constructive discussions,” Keith said. “And at a meeting that is public with jeering and cheering — and yes … both sides had a little bit of it — but that’s just unacceptable in today’s society.”
Ellefson’s resignation letter
At 5:39 a.m., just seven hours after Monroe’s Special Meeting of the Electors, School District of Monroe Board of Education member Teri Ellefson emailed board president Rich Deprez with a letter of resignation, effective immediately.
“I would like to take a moment to thank Eric, Dylan, Nikki, Rich, Fig, Teresa, Tim, Phil and Ron for your continued time and support in helping me learn the process and procedures of being a member of the Board of Education. I truly am grateful for the knowledge I have learned over the past 2 years.
Over the past 4 months, individuals, or the Board as a whole, have received a death threat, harassment towards our children, threats towards our businesses, statements saying we are disgracing our family name, and even comments as low as saying that our deceased family members would be disappointed in us. Yes, we are elected officials who represent our schools, but first and foremost, we are people. We are individuals, community members, parents, and employees, who have done nothing but represent our community and offer respect and kindness to those that have blatantly attacked us.
The number of hours that the Board of Education puts into this voluntary position is more than anyone will ever know. It’s not just two meetings a month, it’s endless. It’s community meetings, representing our school district, attending school events, and more. This is time taken away from our families and jobs. After the events of Wednesday night, after the utmost disrespectful actions towards the Board of Education, I am choosing to resign from my position. I need to put my mental and physical health first. I will continue to serve school districts and youth on a different level. A level that does not harm my mental health. A level that offers hope and support to many.”
Grenzow said she, like Robertson, was unsure if she would speak during public comment.
“I was going to speak tonight, and then I wasn’t. But then when you read the letter from Ms. Ellefson, that’s just a bridge too far,” Grenzow said. “I’ve been appalled at what I’ve heard; the comments I’ve read; attacks at the administration and school board; misguided and misinformed, reckless, slanderous, libelous — the whole gambit. I think it’s way too much.”
Grenzow extended her own “thank you” to the Board for their leadership and professionalism throughout this entire endeavor.
“I want you to know that a lot of us in the community support you. We are here for you,” she said. “I personally have reviewed the materials put out. I’ve watched and re-watched everything, and I think you acted in good faith. I really do. If anything, you’re going to drive growth in this community. We need a school — we have to have a new school. We need to attract new families to this community, and a new school will do that.”
Voegeli read off a written statement, and alluded to another social media group that was recently created for those who want to get a new school built. Within days, that group had grown to over 700 members.
“It is greatly apparent that our community is very fractured. But out of a very dark night, a bright light has emerged,” Voegeli said. “The disrespect shown to the Board the other night has woken a sleeping giant of support in the community. There is a large part of the community that is more committed than ever to stand with the board now and moving forward.”
Deprez personally thanked the speakers for their kind words. Later in the meeting, one of the items on the agenda included an update on the referendum. The segment was brief, with Deprez acknowledging that in order to move forward, exploring creative ways to gain community involvement will have to happen.
“It’s important to note that there is clearly a lot of interest in where the new high school will be built, but it’s also clear that we need to re-engage with the community to educate folks that are becoming interested in the site-selection process. And to determine a site that can be agreed to by the majority of the community — wherever that site ends up being,” Deprez said. “We’re not sure what that process will end up looking like at that time, but we are exploring ways to be better informed by the community and bring back a site to be approved by the electors.”
Also in the meeting, the school board:
● Recognized students and staff Excellence Awards winners for the month of February 2023.
● Approved two professional staff resignations and voluntary staff transfers within the district.
● Approved the graduation of a student by a full year.
● Discussed the pilot program and future implementation of its new Evidence Based Grading system.
● And approved the “Start College Now” applications.