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Oconomowoc schools marketer caught consulting on taxpayer dime resigns

By   /   February 22, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

OCONOMOWOC, Wis. – Following a two-month investigation, Kate Winckler, the Oconomowoc marketing director found to have done consulting work for another school district on the taxpayer dime, has handed in her resignation. 

Photo by James Wigderson

CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC: Notice posted outside of Tuesday night’s special meeting of the Oconomowoc school board. The board met in closed session to discuss accepting the resignation of Communications Director Kate Winckler.

“The Oconomowoc Area School District announces that Kate Winckler has resigned from her position as director of Communication and Marketing,” Oconomowoc Superintendent Roger Rindo said in a written statement Tuesday evening after a closed-door special meeting.

Wisconsin’s open meetings law allows government bodies to meet without the public present when considering, “dismissal, demotion, licensing or discipline of any public employee.”

At the time of her resignation, Winckler was on paid administrative leave while being investigated for her consulting work for the Cambridge School District. The investigation began after an open records request by Wisconsin Watchdog uncovered that Winckler had sent more than 40 emails and was doing work for Cambridge during the Oconomowoc district’s normal business hours.

For example, at 8:25 a.m. Oct. 7, Winckler responded to a request from Mary Kay Raether, a Cambridge schools employee, to check the design of “business cards” to be handed out at homecoming events. After Winckler said she liked the design, Raether emailed again about an hour later to ask if the cards were “too busy.” At 1:07 p.m., Winckler agreed and offered to make changes. At 3:28 p.m., Winckler sent the revised cards back to Raether for approval.

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DOUBLE DIP: Oconomowoc Area School District communications director Kate Winckler handed in her resignation Tuesday.

When her consulting activities were first reported, Winckler said the Cambridge school district was her only outside client.

“I did my best to keep the work confined to evenings, weekends, and the occasional lunch break during the day when I could answer an email or take a phone call,” Winckler said in a statement in December.

Winckler, under the company name School Creatives, signed an agreement with the Cambridge district to provide public relations expertise in advance of its Nov. 8 spending referendum, including the creation and editing of promotional materials. The Cambridge district paid her $1,572.50 for the work. Winckler earned $75,378 annually in her position with the Oconomowoc district.

SEE RELATED: Oconomowoc schools comms director placed on paid administrative leave

In Wisconsin, school districts can ask voters to exceed state-imposed revenue caps designed to keep property taxes down. The Cambridge referendum asked for an additional $1.6 million annually. It was approved with 65 percent of the vote.

While Winckler was consulting for the Cambridge school district, the Oconomowoc school district also was also going to referendum to ask voters to approve $54.9 million in borrowing for new construction and school renovations. That referendum was approved 55 percent to 45 percent.

Winckler’s resignation was effective as of Feb. 15, according to Rindo’s statement. Communications and Marketing employee Jenni Holland will take over as the district communications director. Winckler was not at the school board meeting and did not respond to an email request for comment.

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James Wigderson is a Wisconsin-based reporter for Watchdog. He is also an online contributor to MacIver Institute and RightWisconsin, blogs at the Wigderson Library and Pub, and was formerly an award-winning local columnist for the Waukesha Freeman. James is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He lives in Waukesha, WI, with his wife Doreen and their children.