My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Please note that there is a factual error in the column. I identified Kris Beaver as the treasurer for Tiffany Larson when, in fact, he is the treasurer for Jenn Donath. I rearranged the column a couple of times before sending it in and that fact got mixed up. That’s the explanation, but it’s no excuse. I apologize to Tiffany Larson for the error.
There are five candidates running for two seats on the West Bend School Board this spring. On Feb. 16, the voters will narrow the field to four candidates, with the two winners being elected April 5. Voters in the school district are fortunate to have a relatively varied group of candidates.
Before we whittle down our choices, each of the candidates deserves a hearty “thank you” for being willing to serve on the school board. Though not without rewards, serving on a school board is a time-consuming, frustrating and often thankless job. Those who are willing to step up in service to their community are to be commended, even if they do not win the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed meeting with each of the candidates and hearing their passion for our school district.
As the only incumbent on the ballot, Randy Marquardt knows full well what public service entails. Marquardt has been a member of the School Board since 2010 and currently serves as the board president. Marquardt’s leadership has been commendable. Under his leadership, the West Bend School District has opened an on-site clinic for staff and teachers that has helped control the district’s health care costs while providing a popular service for the district’s employees.
During Marquardt’s tenure, the district has also opened the Pathways Charter School, started a 4K program, expanded Silverbrook Intermediate School, expanded vocational offerings and much more. Perhaps most impressive is the news we no longer hear. When Marquardt first ran for School Board, the district’s facilities were in a constant state of crisis due to previous board decisions to defer major maintenance needs. These recurring crises prompted multiple referendum requests that drove community division. Marquardt ran on a promise to address the district’s facilities issues and has delivered on that promise. Maintenance is no longer being deferred and the district is even setting aside money every year for the eventual replacement of Jackson Elementary without need for another referendum.
Marquardt’s consistent conservative leadership has earned him another term on the school board.
The remaining four candidates are running for School Board for the first time. Jenn Donath is a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and frequent parent volunteer at McLane Elementary. Donath is a member of the steering committee for the recently formed Benders for Better Public Education group. She considers teacher morale and poor communication to be some of the biggest issues in the district. Donath proudly defends her decision to sign the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker and ardently opposes School Choice. Donath’s views on education and the district’s priorities stray too far from my own to earn my vote.
Tiffany Larson was compelled to run for the School Board after her husband, Ron Larson, was not selected for the East girls basketball varsity coaching job he wanted last year. In the wake of that decision, Ron Larson resigned as West Bend East’s junior varsity boys basketball coach and Booster Club president — presumably in protest. Tiffany Larson considers the hiring process to be a symptom of a flawed decision-making process by the district’s administration that opened a crack in the door for her School Board candidacy.
Like Donath, Larson considers the most pressing issues in the district to be teacher morale and a failure of the district’s leadership to address that morale. She is heavily supported by the Benders for Better Public Education group and other prominent liberals in the community — including the liberal former board member Kris Beaver, who serves as her campaign’s treasurer. As with Donath, Larson is too liberal to earn my vote.
The final two candidates offer a conservative choice for voters but come from different perspectives. Bob Miller is a 1995 graduate of West Bend West with kids in the district. As selfprofessed band geek who loves driving the bus for West Bend’s band, Miller’s priority is to keep the district moving in the positive direction of the past few years. He supports a diversified educational offering, including technical and mechanical opportunities, and wants to bring social workers back into the district by reprioritizing spending.
Ken Schmidt is a 36-year resident of the district and husband of a public school teacher. With a Masters in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and 27 years as a member of the Board of Regents for Bethany Lutheran College, Schmidt’s priorities are to improve educational outcomes through a systematic review of the curriculum programs and testing regimens utilized by the district, continue to put away money for future building needs, and encourage parent and employee input. Schmidt believes in being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars and first became active with the school district because of concerns for the financial management of the district.
While Miller and Schmidt are both solid conservative choices, my second vote will go to Schmidt. His greater experience with oversight of an educational institution and focus on fiscal discipline tipped the scale for me.
The only other election on the ballot for most people in the West Bend School District is the primary for Supreme Court Justice, in which incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley is the clear conservative choice. In-person absentee voting is available until Friday. Please take a few minutes and vote to keep the West Bend School Board moving in the right direction.