Waukesha School Board candidates share their concerns on politicized races and the quality of education in the district

·9 min read

WAUKESHA - It doesn't take a post-graduate degree to see that school board races have become hotly contested, with the eight candidates seeking three seats on the Waukesha School Board as one notable example.

The eight candidates — the three incumbents Bill Baumgart, Greg Deets and Amada Medina Roddy and challengers Mark Borowski, Sarah Harrison, Karrie Kozlowski, Marquell Moorer and Jaymz Touchstone — will be pared down to six by voters in the Waukesha School District in the Feb. 15 primary. The remaining candidates will face off in the April 5 spring elections.

Based on their answers to two questions, it's clear they have varying views on how strongly politics are becoming a part of the local school board race as well as their roles on the board. Along those same lines, some are concerned about the quality of education some students have received in recent years.

Waukesha County Now sent candidates two questions focusing on those points. Here are their responses, which were limited to 100 words per question and subject to editing for length and/or clarity. (Note: Deets was unable to reply due to an illness.)

School board races have become politicized recently. How much is this a concern to you?

William Baumgart: This is a major concern to me. So much of our time is being spent in areas other than the education and safety of the children. In the years I have been on the board we have had disagreements, but never the lack of civility shown today in the community. School boards are meant to be non-partisan and have functioned well as such until recently.

Mark Borowski: It is a concern to some degree. The very nature of any elected office is political, unfortunately. I’m not sure anything is improved when it is "politicized." We can’t deny that school board candidates have some political affiliation due to shared values of that party and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it’s the hyper-focus on politics that leads to personal attacks, lies and divisiveness that is a problem. We need to focus on what we have in common — educating our kids to be as successful as they can be, specifically on course subject matter.

Greg Deets: Did not respond by print deadline due to illness

Sarah Harrison: My priority is the well-being of our children, a goal that supersedes politics. We need to support and educate our students, rather than follow a political agenda. As I have listened to my Waukesha School District neighbors over past weeks, I have heard a common theme: People are concerned about the increasingly divisive rhetoric, scare tactics and political decision-making they see in our district. I will not seek endorsement from any political party in my candidacy for this nonpartisan office. As a member of the board, I will seek solutions alongside others, regardless of their political leanings.

Karrie Kozlowski: In politicized school systems, elections are politicized. Neither should be. Waukesha children continue to score below proficiency in all subjects, many failing at least one. Parents know why. For years, Waukesha school boards and administrators, tasked with overseeing fundamental education, have sabotaged academic proficiency with emotionalized, divisive and identity curriculums. The academic proficiency of our students is in crisis, and I'm gravely concerned. We must refocus resources on academic excellence in Waukesha. Approve and fund curricula that ensure students are academically proficient. District parents and students expect it both now and in the future.

Amanda Medina Roddy: School board races have always been politicized but in recent years have become more polarized and openly combative. The idea of politicizing them doesn’t necessarily concern me; many groups advocate for their causes to school boards. What concerns me is when candidates and their supporters engage in contentious behaviors. Candidates can’t lose sight of the students they will serve and the goal to provide a well rounded learning experience for them.

Marquell Moorer: I'm not concerned about this race becoming politicized. I believe we all want what is best for students, families and educators. I'm confident that people with differing beliefs and convictions can come to the table and find common ground on our district's issues.

Jaymz Touchstone: School board races should focus on how to educate our children, not politics. Children should be proficient in core subjects. The board's goal is to ensure that our students are proficient in the basics and equipped with the tools that allow them to pursue their dream careers. Public schools are an integral part of society, and, in many cases, offer quality education. But when public schools don’t work — or don’t work for everyone — parents deserve a choice, whether that be a magnet school, charter school, private school, virtual school, home school, etc. Choice is accomplished with school vouchers.

More: Nearly 28% of Waukesha School District high school students are failing at least one class, records show

What's your primary reason for running for the school board at this time?

Baumgart: I have been told by a number of others that I have brought a sense of reason to meetings. I spend time visiting schools so I can see what is happening. This is far better that the - “I hear from …that…” approach. And I will do my best to continue to serve for the purpose of educating our children, not our politics.

Borowski: To improve academic achievement of all students, plain and simple. The district's student proficiency scores are not nearly as good as they should be. Collectively, the school board, administration, teachers and students need to have a laser focus on one thing: student achievement. The purpose of schools is to produce students who are educated and prepared for the next phase of life, whatever that is. We are not achieving that goal when 50% to 60% of all students are not proficient. At the same time, we cannot lower our standards just to improve proficiency. Let’s do the job right.

Deets: Did not respond by print deadline due to illness

Harrison: My goal is to help our children succeed. All of them. As the mother of two Waukesha students, I have paid close attention to policy and given my input in many Board of Education and subcommittee meetings over the years. Many of the current board members are slow to hold the administration responsible for enacting responsible policy. I am not satisfied with our school board’s response to community members. I will work with our administration to close the achievement gap, to attract and retain quality educators, and to ensure the safety of all people in our school facilities.

Kozlowski: We need to re-raise our standards. Focus on core fundamental education standards. Eliminate divisive curricula and standards lowered in the name of equity. My primary focus is accountability. I'll insist that we hold our administrators and staff accountable for our children's educational proficiency and preparedness for their futures. It's up to us to empower our students' individual strengths and support their challenges; there is no "one size fits all" solution. Our kids need to know that they have what it takes to achieve their biggest dreams. We can Focus Forward together for their future.

Medina Roddy: Our school district, like many others, has just gone through historical times. We pivoted and implemented mitigation strategies beginning the 2020-21 school year. I switched the priority of education to safety for all at that moment in time. We are now seeing the outcomes of the past two years, and I understand the ins and outs of what our district went through. I want to be part of the solution getting our students back on track, providing resources for our staff and administration and caring for our students as a whole, not just their test scores.

Moorer: The Waukesha School District is in crisis. We were once a model school district for surrounding communities. We had what everyone wanted: good neighborhoods, families and schools. But priorities shifted, enrollment decreased and academic performance has declined. We must never tell students that because of their race or identity, they can't succeed. I firmly believe all students can achieve regardless of their skin color if given a quality education with high expectations. This school teacher and uncle of two district students would deem it an honor, a responsibility, and an obligation to serve the community I love.

Touchstone: Our school system is broken with approximately 60% of the students in the WSD below proficient in English and math, and it has been this way for over three years. The current board is either unable or unwilling to educate our children. The current board is either unable or unwilling to share this information openly and honestly with the parents. The current board is either unable or unwilling to lay out a clear plan to correct this horrendous trend and start educating our children. I will return education freedom to the parents in the form of vouchers.

Candidate profiles

William Baumgart
William Baumgart

William A. Baumgart

ADDRESS: 612 Elk Lane, Waukesha

AGE: 80

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: School board member since 1995

OCCUPATION: Retired, formerly management in telecommunications and consultant in career management. Taught at Keller Graduate School of Management.

CONTACT INFO: wkbaumgart@sbcglobal.net

Mark Borowski
Mark Borowski

Mark Borowski

ADDRESS: (Candidate declined)

AGE: 58

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

OCCUPATION: Bank branch manager

CONTACT INFO: borowskiontheboard@gmail.com

Greg Deets

CONTACT INFO: g.deets@sbcglobal.net

Sarah Harrison
Sarah Harrison

Sarah Harrison

ADDRESS: 850 Golden Meadow Court, Brookfield

AGE: 44

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: First-time candidate for public office. Experienced as a volunteer for social issues such as hunger relief, tutoring at-need students and environmental causes.

OCCUPATION: Solution Consulting Manager at Dematic. Leads a team that designs ergonomic material handling systems in distribution and manufacturing environments.

CONTACT INFO: SarahHarrisonForSchoolBoard@gmail.com

Karrie Kozlowski
Karrie Kozlowski

Karrie Kozlowski

ADDRESS: S52 W25449 Poppy Fields Road

AGE: 45

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

OCCUPATION: CPA

CONTACT INFO: karriekozlowski@gmail.com

Amanda Medina-Roddy
Amanda Medina-Roddy

Amanda Medina Roddy

ADDRESS: 2216 Sunkist Ave., Waukesha

AGE: 39

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Waukesha School Board Member, two terms

OCCUPATION: Event manager

CONTACT INFO: amandamedinaroddy@gmail.com

Marquell Moorer
Marquell Moorer

Marquell Moorer

ADDRESS: 1711 Elder St., Waukesha

AGE: 26

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Graduate public policy student

OCCUPATION: Elementary school teacher

CONTACT INFO: askformoorer@gmail.com

Jaymz Touchstone
Jaymz Touchstone

Jaymz Touchstone

ADDRESS: 212 Fountain Ave., Waukesha

AGE: 53

PAST POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None

OCCUPATION: Employment specialist

CONTACT INFO: JaymzForSchoolBoard@Protonmail.com

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or james.riccioli@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Waukesha School Board candidates share views on politics, education

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