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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Republican-backed candidates garner most votes in Waukesha School Board primary

 Waukesha School Board candidates
Courtesy of candidates
Waukesha School Board candidates (clockwise from top left): Sarah Harrison, Mark Borowski, Jaymz Touchstone, Bill Baumgart, Greg Deets, Marquell Moorer, Karrie Kozlowski, and Amanda Medina-Roddy.

Updated Feb. 16 at 10:32 a.m.
Conservative candidates advanced in primary elections for the Waukesha School Board and other area school board races, according to unofficial results.

Karrie Kozlowski, Mark Borowski and Marquell Moorer received the most votes in an eight-way race for six spots in the April 5 Waukesha School Board election. The three candidates are supported by the Republican Party of Waukesha County.

Three candidates supported by liberal groups also advanced: incumbents Greg Deets and Bill Baumgart along with newcomer Sarah Harrison. Incumbent Amanda Medina Roddy and newcomer Jaymz Touchstone garnered the lowest number of votes and will not appear on the April ballot.

Conservative candidates also advanced in school board races in Menomonee Falls and Elmbrook.

Original story:
School board elections are often sleepy affairs. That is not the case in Wisconsin these days.

Debates over COVID-19 mitigation and how schools deal with race and equity have galvanized more people to run for school board.

Some area races are so crowded with candidates that they require primary elections to narrow the field. Those primaries are happening next Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Milwaukee suburbs like Waukesha, Menomonee Falls, Cedarburg and Mequon.

Waukesha is one example of how politics are involved in a technically nonpartisan race.

Eight candidates are running for three open seats on the Waukesha School Board, creating the first primary election in at least 10 years.

Three of the candidates are running together as a conservative slate, which is also happening in Menomonee Falls. The conservative slates are backed by the Republican Party of Waukesha County and its affiliate WisRed. The party has sent out fliers and promoted the candidates on social media.

Yard signs for the slate of conservative school board candidates in Waukesha: Mark Borowski, Marquell Moorer, and Karrie Kozlowski.
Emily Files
Yard signs for the slate of conservative school board candidates in Waukesha: Mark Borowski, Marquell Moorer and Karrie Kozlowski.

Karrie Kozlowski is one of the conservative candidates in Waukesha.

"One part for me is that I think we’ve lost a lot of focus on the underlying teaching our children to dream big, think big, work hard and you can have big," Kozlowski tells WUWM. "And we’ve made it into a very equitable, equal outcomes, divisive format that needs to end."

Parents across the country are pushing back on equity and diversity efforts in schools, labeling them “critical race theory.”

Another Waukesha Republican-backed candidate, Marquell Moorer, points to an example of what he sees as equity going too far. He says one of his nieces, who attends Waukesha schools, was given a pass in a class she was failing.

"Some of them were making excuses for my nieces who are Black," Moorer says. "And making excuses about why they may not have what it takes to achieve. And I thought that was crap. I don’t think skin color should define them. I think what’s going to define them is having high expectations for them."

Advocates for equity say it doesn’t mean lowering expectations, but giving children the support they need to succeed.

"I don’t know where along the line equity became this dirty word," Waukesha School Board incumbent Amanda Medina-Roddy says.

Ironically, Roddy is a former executive director of the Waukesha GOP. Now, the party is trying to unseat her.

"I believe it has to do with my COVID votes, anything that has to do with mitigation pieces I wanted to implement in the district and my seat as a committee member on our district equity team," Medina-Roddy says. "I try not to make it personal or be hurt by it."

The ballot box at Waukesha city hall during early voting in the spring primary.
Emily Files
The ballot box at Waukesha city hall during early voting in the spring primary.

School board races are technically nonpartisan. Bill Baumgart says it wasn’t until recently that politics became obviously involved.

"I’m against it," Baumgart says. "By design, school boards are not supposed to be political."

Baumgart has been on the Waukesha School Board for more than 20 years, and is running for reelection.

Republican-backed candidate Mark Borowski says he understands the concerns about politicizing the school board. But he says if elected, he wouldn’t be making decisions based on party.

"I share values with a particular party and they want to support me and help me get elected and make positive changes that they would support. That’s why they do it," Borowski says. "I don’t want to be beholden to them. It’s not like if I get elected, I’m going to look to them to decide what to do."

The Waukesha Republican Party hasn’t responded to requests for this story.

Meanwhile, the local Democratic Party is evaluating whether it should get more involved in nonpartisan races, says chair Matt Mareno.

"If we want to keep a school board that is in fact parents and nonpartisan folks doing what’s best for the district without a political discourse, we have to find a middle ground of how we want to counteract the narrative that’s being pushed [by the Republican Party] without continuing to make this a partisan, toxic political fight," Mareno says.

Mareno says his party is recommending its members vote for incumbents Bill Baumgart and Greg Deets, along with a newcomer, Sarah Harrison.

Two local liberal-leaning groups, Blue Sky Waukesha and the Alliance for Education in Waukesha, endorsed Baumgart, Deets, Medina-Roddy and Harrison.

Harrison is running for the board after being embarrassed that the district made national headlines for turning down federally-funded meals for students and for banning LGBTQ pride signagein classrooms.

"[People in the community] would like us to not have issues that hit the national news," Harrison says. "I would really like to be in a school district where we're making some common sense decisions that don’t draw nation’s attention. ... I'd rather focus on things like curriculum and education."

The six candidates with the most votes on Feb. 15 will then face off in the general election April 5.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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