MMSD’s interim superintendent addresses complaint alleging harassment, bullying

And when it comes to transparency with the public, Lisa Kvistad says the district needs to do better.
Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 6:23 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As a new interim superintendent takes the reins of the Madison Metropolitan School District, the first conversation our NBC15 Investigates Elizabeth Wadas has with the new leader centers around transparency.

MMSD Interim Superintendent Lisa Kvistad took over for former MMSD Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins on June 12. Jenkins stepped away from the position three years in, he says, to spend more time with family. This one-on-one interview with NBC15 Investigates and Kvistad comes more than a month after a complaint against the district’s head of communications, Tim LeMonds. That complaint against LeMonds alleges instances of “emotional abuse, bullying, unequal pay, and harassment on the basis of gender, and race or ethnicity” against current and former district employees.

The complaint details how LeMonds allegedly interacted with and spoke about female journalists, including NBC15′s Elizabeth Wadas. According to the complaint, LeMonds allegedly described Wadas in a Zoom meeting as “Quickly becoming the sleaziest journalist in Madison…What a pig of a journalist” in response to a story Wadas was working on that was critical of a high school football coach. The school did an initial investigation into the complaint months ago and found most of the claims were found “without merit.” And no action was taken against LeMonds at that time.

When asked to comment on the allegations made against him, LeMonds said “I am very grateful for the school district’s fair and thorough investigation of the complaint in October of 2022, for which I was cleared of all allegations. I am eager to move forward, resolve the relational issues within the team, and get back to working together to uplift the many great things happening in our schools - like our graduating class of 2022-2023.”

After the complaint was made public by a Dane County judge, the district is now re-investigating the complaint and has placed LeMonds on leave.

“It was a shocking document, astonished by the detail of the allegations and the number of them and the pattern it seems to suggest of the behavior of this school district employee,” said head of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, Bill Lueders.

“I think the school district has some more real questions to answer. What did it investigate? What did it find? Why is this person still in that job?” questioned Lueders.

LeMonds on leave, and a new leader at the helm of the district, NBC15 Investigates was finally granted an interview to sit down with the head of the district to discuss the complaint.

Elizabeth Wadas: Looking at that complaint and the allegations in it, with bullying, talking bad about media, staff and the communications department not feeling their voices were heard, what surprised you about that complaint when you saw it?

Lisa Kvistad: In all of my years with the district, so 19 plus years, I was surprised to see that there were spaces and places in the district where people had felt all of things you just mentioned, right, hat their voices weren’t heard and didn’t feel safe in the spaces they were working. I was committed on day one to wrap around, particularly the communications department and the work they are doing, so their voices are heard and they feel valued and hear from them as individuals and as a team about what they need.

EW: What do they need?

LK: I think they need someone as a leader who is going to support them, who is going to bring out their talents. They’re each so committed to the team but they each bring something individually. It is both acknowledging them as individuals and the talents they have and trusting them as a team to do the work.

EW: This complaint was supposedly investigated back in October. Why did it take making it public to re-examine it and take these steps you’re talking about now?

LK: I wasn’t here when that happened, and can’t speak on confidential matters related to personnel. What I do know now is we are very intentional about addressing the culture and climate of the communications team, and we are committed that if there is anything that needs to be shared with the community to rebuilt confidence and trust around this way of working, I realize that has been damaged over the course of the last few months, that we are committed to being transparent and clear about what, if any, next steps will be happening in the future.

EW: What did the district learn within the past few months with this complaint?

LK: I do think there is an opportunity for the district to do an after action review and to really look at how all of this played out for ourselves, what were the conditions under which all of this happened? And what we can do differently if something happens again.

EW: What can the local media do to be better partners?

LK: Continue to ask questions. When you have questions, ask. I am committed, the team is committed to getting you the answers when you need them when we can so you feel you understand and so you know the why. I think that’s really important. I am looking forward to continuing a very open relationship so we can tell the story that’s happening in our schools, tell the challenges we know we have and how we are going to go about addressing them moving forward.

EW: What would be your message to a parent who has felt their voice hasn’t been heard by the school district?

LK: As I used to say when I was principal to children, everyday people get to try again, everyday children and grown ups get to try again, and if there are ways we can do better, we want to do that. If we haven’t gotten back to people or if people haven’t gotten the information they needed, we need to do better. We are an institution of teaching and learning. Right? If something hasn’t gone well, we want to learn from that, change behavior and move on.

As of July 3, LeMonds was still on leave amidst the re-investigation of the allegations against him. Again, LeMonds has repeatedly said the claims are without merit.

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