The Wauwatosa School Board voted Monday to no longer allow voting in district schools after the Nov. 8 election because of safety and security concerns for students and staff and disruption to the learning environment.
Currently, seven of 14 voting locations in Wauwatosa are in district schools.
'Times have changed when it comes to school safety,' Superintendent Phil Ertl said during a regular school board meeting Monday, May 9. He later added: 'I don't want to be sitting here after something tragic occurs and talking about what we should have been doing.'
The school board also voted to reschedule a previously planned teacher in-service day from Oct. 21 to Nov. 8 to ensure that students will not be in the building on election day this fall.
Talk about eliminating voting in Wauwatosa schools has been swirling for years and Ertl said that during every election cycle 'there's been something that's occurred that's been troubling.' The superintendent has said that during the latest election in April, he received contact from two principals with issues in their buildings — one security-related and one student-related.
'My priority is to make sure our students have a safe place to learn,' Ertl said.
Ertl added that stationing police officers at every school on election day could send the wrong message to students.
At a school board meeting in April, member Kristy Casey reminded her colleagues of an incident that happened about 10 years ago when a parent entered a classroom on voting day and took photos. The district later pressed charges against the parent, she said.
The issue of whether or not the taxpayer-funded schools should be available to the public on election day also was discussed.
'I understand that safety and security is very important but I am concerned about closing down schools,' said board member Emily Kenney. 'I want to make sure they're available for public use.'
Ertl stressed that the district has poured a large amount of money into keeping schools locked down and safe during the academic year, only to open doors wide on election day. There have been incidents in which voters have tried to enter the school through the wrong entrance 'and get very frustrated in front of students and staff,' when they're not allowed in, Ertl said.
'People continue to feel extremely uncomfortable with voting in the schools,' he said, adding that some parents have even informed him they would not send their children to school on election day if they continued to serve as polling places.
Eliminating schools as polling locations puts pressure on the city to develop alternative options.
City Clerk Carla Ledesma asked the board May 9 to consider the continued use of in-service days for future elections.
'We're talking about relocating 21,000 voters,' she said.
At a previous board meeting, Ledesma told district officials she's looked into other possible voting locations throughout the city, including churches, which raises a concern with many voters who believe it violates the separation of church and state.
Ledesma also has said she's looked into some assisted living communities and the Muellner Building at Hart Park.
Ertl said he understands the decision could put the city in a 'tough spot.' 'We'll continue to work with them,' he said.