Here’s who you’ll see on your ballot for Milwaukee School Board and what they stand for
All Milwaukee voters April 4 will have a hand in choosing the next school board member to hold the only citywide seat governing Milwaukee Public Schools, as board president Bob Peterson is stepping down.
Some Milwaukee voters will have a second school board seat on their ballot for their local area. Eight school board members represent different areas of the city. Their terms are four years long and staggered, so half are up for election every two years.
School board members decide how MPS spends its budget, including pandemic relief funds. They set policies, from COVID safety to discipline guidelines, and direct lobbying efforts for state and federal education policies.
Find your district on the map below or find maps for each district on the MPS website. You can also check who is on your ballot at myvote.wi.gov.
Districts 4-7 do not have elections this year and will continue to be led by Aisha Carr, Jilly Gokalgandhi, Marcela Garcia and Henry Leonard, respectively, who were elected in 2021.
Districts 2 and 8 will each have only one candidate on the ballot, incumbents Erika Siemsen and Megan O'Halloran, respectively, both supported by the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, the union for MPS staff. In District 2, former Milwaukee Police Sgt. Pamela Holmes, whose nomination papers were rejected by city election officials, is running a write-in campaign against Siemsen. O'Halloran is running unopposed.
Districts 1 and 3, along with the citywide seat, each have head-to-head races on the ballot. In District 1, Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves will face incumbent Marva Herndon. In District 3, board vice president Sequanna Taylor is stepping down; Gabi Hart will take on Darryl Jackson in that race.
Learn more about the candidates below.
Background: Jeff Spence, who also ran for a seat on the common council but lost in the primary, works at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District as a senior fellow and officer of diversity, equity and inclusion. He previously served on the school board from 1999 to 2015, when he lost to teachers-union-backed Wendell Harris. The union opposed Spence’s openness to approving independently run charter schools.
Supporters: Spence said his campaign has received contributions from charter school advocate and founder Howard Fuller, former county executive Chris Abele, former school board members Mark Sain and Bruce Thompson, Milwaukee Succeeds Director Vincent Lyles, conservative donor Ted Kellner and equity fund director Cory Nettles, who co-chaired a capital campaign for Fuller's school.
Donors: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Spence had not yet logged contributions. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
Spence said MPS should consolidate students and staff into fewer buildings, in cases where buildings are not at capacity, and sell other buildings. He said elementary schools with 200 or fewer students, or traditional high schools with 300 or fewer students, may not be offering as many opportunities for students, and the district would benefit from saving money on upkeep of underused buildings.
Spence said he would propose adding seats on the school board for the mayor and county executive. The idea is softer than other power-shifting proposals that the board has fought off in the past, including putting the mayor in charge or dissolving the district. Spence said the officials would have no more power than other board members. But it would mean voters outside the city would have voting power for one seat. Spence said the collaboration would lead to “collective strategies” to address intertwined issues of education, health and stable housing. He also said, in a forum hosted by Leaders Igniting Transformation, that he disagrees with the board’s 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Spence said MPS needs to prioritize reading and math, that Milwaukee needs more alternative educational models, and parents should be able to choose from a range of schools whether they are run by MPS or not. He said he would support “universal school choice,” a concept backed by Republican lawmakers who say any student should be able to use tax-funded vouchers to attend private schools.
Background: Zombor is the marketing director for Rethinking Schools, a magazine co-founded by school board president Bob Peterson with a focus on social justice in education. She previously served as communications director for the MPS teachers union. Like two candidates who ran in the 2021 board election, Zombor is a member of the Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America.
Supporters: Zombor is endorsed by Peterson, who is vacating the seat. She is also endorsed by the MPS teachers union, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Citizen Action, Wisconsin Working Families Party, the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County, former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes; state Dem. lawmakers Darrin Madison, Evan Goyke, Ryan Clancy, Christine Sinicki, Tod Ohnstad, LaTonya Johnson and Chris Larson; county supervisors Marcelia Nicholson, Juan Miguel Martinez and Peter Burgelis; and Common Council members Jonathan Brostoff and Marina Dimitrijevic.
Donors: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Zombor had raised over $10,000, with the largest donation being $1,000 from Clancy. She has since received $5,000 from the MPS teachers union, according to a later filing by the union's political action committee. Zombor’s next report is due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
Zombor said MPS, which has dealt with chronic staff vacancies, needs to better compensate teachers to ensure smaller class sizes and that each school can regularly offer arts, physical education and career education. She said she would support bonuses for educators who stay in the district, health insurance for all full-time substitute teachers, and a faster hiring process.
Zombor’s priorities also include transportation, meals and mental health. She said she would push to add GPS trackers to school buses so families can track them, and would advocate for free county bus passes for MPS students. She wants more schools to reopen their kitchens to prepare fresh meals and offer customizable options like sandwich, baked potato or salad bars. She said she would “defend and expand” recess, and push for more mental health staff and restorative justice practices. At LIT's forum, she said she supports the school board’s 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Zombor said she doesn’t think the school board should approve any new “non-instrumentality” charter schools, which are schools authorized by MPS to be run by independent boards. She said she wouldn’t necessarily vote against renewing contracts with existing non-instrumentality charter schools but thinks the board should “take a close look” before doing so.
Shandowlyon Hendricks Reaves
Background: Hendricks Reaves, who now owns a dump truck business, ran for state superintendent in 2021 and lost in the primary. She previously worked as a teacher and administrator in public, private charter and higher education settings, before working for the state Department of Public Instruction while now Gov. Tony Evers was state superintendent, and then serving as director of Evers’ Milwaukee office when he became governor. Also from 2016 to 2022, Hendricks Reaves worked as a consultant for a range of clients including MPS, other public and private schools, and City Forward Collective — where she is credited with launching the organization’s parent organizing work.
Supporters: Hendricks Reaves is endorsed by the Leaders in Education Fund, a national organization that has been linked with charter-backing billionaires, as reported by the Washington Post; and supported a range of candidates across the country, including current board member Aisha Carr. Hendricks Reaves is also endorsed by former state Rep. Elizabeth Coggs (Democrat), former state superintendent candidate Sheila Briggs, Racine Unified School District Superintendent Eric Gallien, America's Black Holocaust Museum President Robert Davis, former candidate for state Assembly Andrew McKinney (Republican), pastor Doyle Sprewer, and former educators Latish Reed, Mary Pat Siewart, Janie Hatton, David DeGuire and Jennie Dorsey, among others.
Funders: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Hendricks-Reaves reported raising about $2,700: mostly her own money as loans to the campaign, along with $1,000 from Rogers Onick, a retired MPS principal, and $100 from Briggs. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
With a similar platform to her run for superintendent, Hendricks Reaves has proposed a "Bill of Rights" for students that includes early childhood education, a nurse in every school, arts programming, options for virtual instruction and career internships. At LIT's forum, she said she disagrees with the school board’s 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Hendricks Reaves said she would push for more state funding for MPS and higher pay for teachers. She also said she would work to recruit and support more teachers of color in MPS, including more opportunities for high school students to start studying to become teachers, and creative partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities — possibly linking student teachers from HBCUs with retired Black educators in Milwaukee willing to house and mentor them.
Hendricks Reaves said MPS should consider selling underused buildings to save money, though if it meant shuttering schools, she said the board should give families and staff one or two years' notice before doing so, with a plan for moving those students. Additionally, she said she would not actively oppose expansion of charter schools or vouchers for private schools.
Marva Herndon (inc.)
Background: Herndon was elected to the board in 2019. She worked as a computer programmer for 25 years and retired from Harley-Davidson in 2009. She founded the Bryant Heights Neighborhood Association in 2001 and has been involved with the NAACP education committee, Schools and Communities United, and Wisconsin Public Education Network, which advocates for funding for public schools and against expansion of non-district charter schools and vouchers for private schools.
Supporters: Herndon has announced endorsements from the MPS teachers union, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Citizen Action, Wisconsin Working Families Party, former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Ald. Jonathan Brostoff and Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic.
Funders: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Herndon reported she started with a committee balance of about $1,900 and had no new fundraising. She has since received $1,461 from the MPS teachers union, according to a later filing by the union's political action committee. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
In her time on the board, Herndon has pushed for more music, arts and physical education programming at MPS, particularly on the north side of the city where programs had dwindled, ultimately succeeding with the passage of the 2020 referendum. The pandemic and staffing vacancies have impeded some progress, and she said she hopes to see the effort through.
Herndon said she wants to continue other initiatives the board is working on, including restoring school-based kitchens to make fresher meals for students. She also co-sponsored a resolution last year to cut the district’s greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030 and support the national Justice 40 Initiative goal to ensure 40% of jobs related to climate go to marginalized communities. At LIT's forum, she said she stood by her 2020 vote with the school board's majority to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Herndon has long opposed the public funding of private and non-district charter schools, in part because they educate fewer students with disabilities and leave school districts with comparatively higher costs for special education, which affects the district’s whole budget.
Background: Holmes launched a write-in campaign after city election officials determined she failed to turn in the required 400 valid nomination signatures from her district. She retired in 2017 after 17 years as a sergeant with the Milwaukee Police Department. She serves on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos' Task Force on Racial Disparities, and as state chapter president of the National Black Police Association.
Supporters: Holmes said she was endorsed by former County Supervisor Michael Mayo.
Funders: Holmes has not reported fundraising. Election officials said she will have to file a finance report March 27, since she is registered as a write-in candidate.
Asked why she was running, Holmes said she has been frustrated with MPS through the course of her volunteer work since retiring from the police department. She said she has worked with Youth Victory Over Violence to organize conversations between police and students about gun violence, reckless driving and other issues but MPS has not brought them “on board to have the conversations.”
Holmes said she wants to address bullying in MPS and said she thinks police should be invited back into MPS schools to stop it. She said the district should make sure officers in the schools are officers who choose to be in schools, rather than being forced to be there. At LIT’s forum, she said she disagrees with the board’s 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Holmes recently pulled her daughter out of MPS and moved her to a suburban school. She said she wants to see MPS offer the resources she's seen her daughter get in the suburb, including extracurricular activities at all schools. She said there should be more state funding for public schools, and she does not oppose funding for vouchers for private schools.
Background: Siemsen was elected to the school board in 2019. Previously, she worked as a teacher at Neeskara Elementary, a MPS school, for over 30 years and served as a representative with the MPS teachers union.
Supporters: Siemsen is endorsed by the MPS teachers union, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, Citizen Action, Wisconsin Working Families Party, Fair Wisconsin, state lawmakers Chris Larson and Evan Goyke (Democrats), County Supervisors Ryan Clancy and Peter Burgelis, Alderman Jonathan Brostoff and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, among others.
Funders: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Siemsen reported she started with a committee balance of about $3,800 and had added just $27 in December. She has since received $1,482 from the MPS teachers union, according to a later filing by the union's political action committee. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
Siemsen co-wrote a resolution in 2020 to reduce class sizes, starting with the youngest grades. She said she wants to continue that work by building up the workforce of teachers entering the field, including supporting current MPS students in starting down that path.
Siemsen said she wants to work on improving school meals. She recently co-authored a resolution to start a Food Justice Task Force to recommend changes for MPS. The task force will involve board members, staff, administrators and students — including students from Youth Empowered in the Struggle, which has been pushing for better meals.
At LIT's forum, she said she stood by her 2020 vote with the school board's majority to end contracts with Milwaukee Police. Siemsen said she wants to see MPS expand mental health supports and make resources more equitable across the district. She said she would prefer all charter schools be district run.
Background: Hart is a confronting mass incarceration fellow with the Milwaukee Turners. In 2016, she co-founded Program the Parks with activist Vaun Mayes, in response to seeing teenagers fighting and getting kicked out of parks. Their organization offered free food, jobs for teens raking leaves and shoveling snow, and a range of activities like dance contests, movie screenings and karate. She also worked as a business analyst for coding training program IC Stars from 2019 to 2021.
Supporters: Hart is endorsed by school board vice president Sequanna Taylor, who is vacating the seat. She is also endorsed by the MPS teachers union, Fair Wisconsin, Citizen Action, Ald. Jonathan Brostoff, and V100 program director Reggie Brown, among others.
Funders: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Hart didn’t report any fundraising. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
Hart said her top priority is reducing suspensions and expulsions at MPS, which have continued to be disparately high for Black students. She said the district should look at ending the use of suspensions for certain behaviors, such as being late to school. While tardiness isn’t a category on the district’s suspension reports, skipping class is. She said the district should work with community groups to “get to the root” of issues, use restorative justice practices and spaces in schools where students can calm down.
Hart said she wants to involve students more in board decisions and specifically work with LGBTQ students and student groups to see how schools could improve. Hart said she has marched in students’ protests, including one at North Division about lead in water, and would work to ensure safe water fountains districtwide — something MPS is using some federal pandemic relief dollars to fund. At LIT's forum, she said she supports the school board's 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Hart said she is still learning about the charter and voucher systems but would like to see limits on them in order to retain funding for MPS where she said there is more accountability to an elected board.
Background: Jackson is a real estate investor and vice president of business development at a construction management firm, Brothers Infrastructure Group Construction. According to his campaign website, Jackson is a graduate of Bradley Tech and has mentored MPS students through his construction firm. Jackson declined an interview request from the Journal Sentinel but answered questions by email.
Supporters: Jackson said he is endorsed by Aisha Carr.
Funders: As of the most recent campaign finance filings in January, Jackson didn’t report any fundraising. The next reports are due March 27 and will be available on the city website.
Noting many students may not choose college, Jackson said MPS should focus on reading and math and better provide students with "transferable skills" for a range of career pathways. He said the district should work with local companies to establish more student internships and apprenticeship programs.
Jackson said he would seek to reduce suspension and expulsion rates by "creating a formal talk back session to give view points from both sides to gather an understanding as to why." At LIT's forum, he said he disagreed with the board's 2020 decision to end contracts with Milwaukee Police.
Jackson said the district could better support teachers by investing in higher-quality training and offering financial advisory services for retirement planning. Jackson said he supported Evers' budget proposal, including the freeze on vouchers for private schools, "as of now." He said he's not sure yet how he would handle requests for new charter schools as doesn't yet know enough about how many charter schools exist or the need for more.
Learn more and vote
Learn more about all the school board candidates by watching the replay of LIT's Feb. 15 forum on the organization's Facebook page.
Learn about candidates for state Supreme Court, Milwaukee Common Council, Milwaukee County Board and other offices at jsonline.com.
Find information on your polling place, registering to vote, and what's on your ballot at myvote.wi.gov. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 4.
Contact Rory Linnane at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: MPS School Board candidates on Milwaukee spring 2023 election ballot