A former Kenosha Unified School Board member is accusing board member Jo Ann Taube, currently running for re-election, of making racist statements.
Taube is running for re-election in a hotly contested race for the board. On Tuesday, she was the highest vote-getter in a six-way primary election for the two open seats.
Former School Board President Pam Stevens — who is supporting candidates Gary Kunich and Dan Wade — said Taube made racist statements when talking about student achievement at two recent candidate forums.
Taube, a retired music teacher, said she felt the accusations were coming for political reasons.
“I can’t imagine how they consider me racist,” Taube said Thursday.
Stevens cites Taube’s response to a question posed at a Jan. 29 forum sponsored by Kenosha Parents for Children and held at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
“At the Parkside forum a question was asked about at-risk students. It had nothing to do with race; race was nowhere in the statement,” Stevens said. “She had this long soliloquy, but at the end of the answer she said ‘if black males are the problem we have to look into that.”’
Stevens’ recollection of the statement is somewhat off. According to an audio recording, Taube answered, “There has been a concern nationally about over-identifying minority students, especially African American males. We need to understand that, but we also, if they pick up any bad habits, need to try to nip that in the bud as early as we can.”
At a second forum conducted by WGTD, moderator Steve Brown played an audio clip of Taube’s statement. “There are some people who were very offended by that, who thought it was a very racist comment,” Brown said at the forum.
He played the audio clip after Taube answered a question about how the board could reduce the achievement gap between minority and white students.
“We don’t want to exclude students, we want to be inclusive so all students can achieve,” Taube said. “It was not made as a racist comment.”
She promoted early childhood education programs like Head Start and 4-year-old kindergarten as ways to address the achievement gap.
“Some students have not had the socialization that possibly you need for listening and learning and paying attention,” Taube said. “I’m talking about social development and social skills.”
“Is that based on ethnicity do you think?” Brown asked in follow up.
“I believe all races are capable of learning,” Taube said.
Stevens said of Taube “to me she just pretty much dug herself deeper by saying some people don’t understand about learning and sitting still and being able to listen.”
By contrast candidate Wade, the former Kenosha Police chief, answered the WGTD question about the achievement gap with an answer focused on families.
“There is definitely inequality, I think, in the school system when it comes to minorities, and I believe the majority of that has to start at the home, whether it be social skills or respect for authority and just respect in general,” Wade said. “If they are not getting it at home, it may sound ridiculous, but maybe the parents should go back to school.”
During his tenure on the police department working with people of all races, Wade said, “I found getting parents involved was extremely difficult.”
Working to close the achievement gap is a major goal for the district. Black and Hispanic students, especially African American boys, lag in graduation rates, college entrance exam scores, participation in advanced placement classes and in state standardized testing results.