Throughout southeastern Wisconsin, conservative candidates are making a stand and trying to take back local school boards or just add more conservative voices to them. The April 6 ballot will feature a lot of conservative choices.
It’s happening in the Oak Creek-Franklin School District, where the Take Back the Board PAC is fielding four candidates – Kelly Ganiere, Michael Dudzik, Jerry Krist and Jeffrey Tilghman – in an effort to defeat the incumbent school board members.
It’s happening in Muskego, where a Milwaukee police officer, Kevin Zimmerman, is seeking a seat. It’s happening in Oconomowoc, where strong conservative candidates are on the ballot – Matt Carrico and Alexandra Schweitzer. It’s happening in Stone Bank, where Patrick Foy decided to run as a write-in candidate when he realized no one was listed on the ballot. It’s happening in Elmbrook School District with the candidacy of James Gunsalus, who is backed by the Waukesha County GOP. Some conservatives are pushing Emily Donohue as a write-in in the Elm Brook School District and Todd Doerfert, a candidate in Hartford.
“Our children’s education has been politicized and our community polarized this past year. Our kids deserve to have a school board united to make students a priority and I am a bridge builder who can do that,” Donohue says on her website.
Doerfert told HUHS.org, “As a school board we need to understand that members of our district do not have unlimited disposable income. We must find ways to solve problems at the school which require less spending or no spending. Critics will say ‘that’s impossible,’ but I believe we can.
Some heavy hitters have endorsed some of these candidates. Political insiders we’ve talked to say they believe there is momentum behind more conservative candidates seeking school board positions, something that may be attributed to parental concern over schools’ handling of the in-person teaching question and the power of teachers’ unions, although it’s certainly not a phenomenon driven solely by that. In Oconomowoc, citizens outraged that the board didn’t send kids back to in-person schooling like neighboring districts have organized.
Here are some of the conservative candidates or candidates espousing some conservative values who are on the ballot, in no particular order. The list is not meant to be all-inclusive; rather, we are highlighting some candidates we find interesting. There are also some incumbents respected by conservatives on the ballot, such as in Oconomowoc (Jessica Karnowski and James Wood) and in Muskego-Norway (Tracy Blair).
Blair defines herself as a “fiscal conservative” who “kept the tax levy down.” She is a small business owner and active community volunteer.
Here’s a list of the candidates Rebecca Kleefisch’s PAC is supporting in the April 6 election.
This list is not meant to be all-inclusive; rather we are highlighting select candidates and races that we find interesting/people have brought to our attention. If you think another candidate also deserves to be featured, write us at [email protected] or [email protected] and let us know so we can add them in. We aren’t telling you who to vote for, nor do we endorse in political races. However, we are providing the following information to help educate voters on their choices.
Kevin Zimmerman: Muskego-Norway School Board
We were familiar with Kevin Zimmerman as a Milwaukee police officer; he once made WTMJ-TV when he bought a woman car seats instead of giving her a ticket. He’s drawn the unfair fire of some liberal opponents, including in the media.
We asked Zimmerman for a statement explaining why he is running and his philosophy, which he defines as conservative. He gave us these questions and answers.
What do you believe are the most important issues for the Muskego-Norway Schools in the coming term and why?
“I believe the most important issues relate to how to make our graduates into fiscally responsible functioning members of society. I want to give them the exposure to get real-life experience in more trade classes, budgeting, tax classes and so on. In addition, I want to ensure that our curriculum stays true to what we stand for and isn’t altered in the current climate of today’s culture. I want our curriculum to be free from ideology and ensure that we teach our students how to think, not what to think. I want to continue to keep our students in school and eliminate the mask requirement as soon as possible. I believe it is a personal choice to decide to wear a mask in school.”
What skills would you provide as a school district leader that you would like to highlight?
“As a seasoned law enforcement officer, I have had years of experience in taking all sides of an issue into consideration and understanding that there is always more to the story or issue. I am unbiased in decision-making and open to listening and understanding the topics at hand. I am able to multi-task, stay calm when tensions are high, and present rational thought processes during decision-making. I am a parent and husband and know that being a part of the school board is critical to give our students a solid foundation for their future.”
What is the most significant issue you think should be addressed by the School Board in the next year or next few years?
“There are several issues that need to be addressed. Critically, our focus should be the mask mandate. We should poll the parents if we should continue in the schools with face coverings. The next is mental health and keeping our kids healthy through the remaining pandemic. Children are struggling from the isolation and ramifications of the pandemic. We need to up our support for our resources in this category. Lastly, more long term, I want to upgrade the STEM program and add more trade classes including plumbing and electrical. Along with that, I would like to continue to expand the Connect Academy program. Lastly want to teach kids how to think, not what to think.”
What is one change you would like to see happen in the School District?
“I would like to focus on a better rhythm of feedback from the parents/community/staff by continually surveying on plans or focus areas. I believe by polling more often we can stay better engaged on where our efforts should be focused. With this shift of the school board, we can ensure that the critical needs of our staff, students and parents are met. If we have learned anything over the last year, it is that we need to ensure we have agility in decision planning. This will be created by staying close to the needs of our staff/parents/community.”
What in your background or life experiences makes you particularly qualified for a position on the School Board?
“I believe the experiences from my career, being a father, a husband, and coach make me very relatable to the Muskego community. I am unbiased and neutral when it comes to situations that arise. I am able to stay calm under pressure and listen to both sides of an issue prior to making a decision. I’m open to new ideas, suggestions, and I am very dependable. I am not afraid to speak up, but I also know when to listen. I want to give back to the local community that I live in, while continuing to dedicate my life to serving in the city of Milwaukee. I am also a conservative and have conservative values.”
Tracy Blair: Muskego-Norway School Board
Blair is an incumbent. On her Facebook page, she provides this information:
What makes you the best candidate or Why should I vote for you?
“I truly believe that it’s my experience and qualifications. In addition to being an incumbent, a mother of six who all been students in the district, I have my Master’s degree in Pediatric Nursing, I teach senior nursing students at Children’s Wisconsin, so I understand the academic world along with the health care world; which are both present in our school district. My nursing role leads me to be a good listener and advocate for you. I have been on numerous school district’s committees; strategic planning, human growth & development, master’s planning and the parent advisory committee. I have volunteered in numerous roles that has enriched me and I hope the community- I was a Girl Scout leader to two troops, a MAA coach, Park and Rec Basketball coach, Muskego Soccer Club Coach, Lake Denoon PTO Committee Chair, and was the Country Meadows PTO president for nine years. Currently I am on the St. Leonard’s Athletic Board, St. Leonards Track Coordinator, St. Leonard’s 9th Grade Morality teacher, Columbia College of Nursing Alumni Board, City of Muskego Library board, and I’m on the CESA 1 Board of Control. My husband and I own a small janitorial business called Excel Building Services, so I understand budgeting, hiring and hard work ethics.
I have maintained a high level of understanding of how school boards run by receiving a Level 1 from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards and I am also a certified pediatric nurse, both of these keep me current in knowing a lot more about policies and procedures and keeping current within this field. I feel that my goals of keeping the tax levy down being a fiscal conservative, looking to improve the STEAM programs, and helping with mental health issues are similar to what I have been hearing around the community. I have told many people while interacting during my Meet & Greets or going door to door, that I am here for you. I will work as hard as I can to assure that you feel that this is the best school district around! If you have any other questions- please feel free to ask. Thank you for listening!”
Patrick Foy: Stone Bank School Board
Patrick Foy decided to run as a write-in candidate for Stone Bank School Board when he realized that no one was on the ballot. He’s been endorsed by Republican state Rep. Barb Dittrich, who serves the Oconomowoc area.
She wrote, “When I was looking for a campaign treasurer, I knew it had to be someone smart, reliable, & trustworthy. That is why I asked Pat Foy. He is those things & more. A man of impeccable character. He is of such character that when he saw the ballot for his precinct & saw no one running for school board, he found it unconscionable & stepped up. Please honor his commitment & sacrifice by writing in Patrick FOY For Stone Bank School Board! You must be sure to write in his name completely & correctly for it to count. If you are in the Stone Bank School District, do yourself & your community a favor by writing in Patrick Foy for School Board this Tuesday, April 6th!”
We asked Foy for a statement explaining his background and what he wants to bring to the school board.
Private Industry Experience
“I’m a Director and member of the executive team for a local mid-sized manufacturer with approximately 425 employees and $130MM in annual revenue (Bruno Independent Living Aids in Oconomowoc WI). I oversee departments that manage our customer interactions, marketing and government contracting efforts. As a Director, my daily work revolves around balancing the interests of customers, associates and the company to come up with the best solutions and find ways to improve performance and be more competitive.
I’ve been both a board member and officer for non-profit 503c organizations and my church, I was enlisted in the Wisconsin Army National Guard from 1984-1992.
Overall, I’m just a guy that loves his community, sent my own son through the district, and recognizes the importance that a strong school plays in the overall health and growth of the community. Families chose to live in this area (or use open enrollment to bring their children to the district) based on the quality of education that is delivered. Stone Bank is traditionally a top 5% school in terms of student outcomes, and it’s critical that the district remain competitive moving forward.”
“You asked about whether I was conservative – depending on your definition, I would say that I ‘qualify’ as conservative. I believe in limited government, personal responsibility and American exceptionalism (in terms of a government based on the rule of law vs. monarchy or party rule). I believe that parents are best positioned to teach morality and ethics, rather than the state and the government should serve the public (taxpayers) rather than the other way around.
I contribute my time and money to people and causes that reflect these philosophies. For the past two election cycles, I have served as Treasurer for Rep. Barb Dittrich’s campaign; it’s taught me quite a bit about campaign finance and how to successfully campaign for office.”
School Board changes
“As I mentioned earlier, Stone Bank School traditionally scores in the top 5%, so there are a lot of things that are going well. From most accounts, the district performed well in adjusting to the COVID issues over the past year. But as the saying goes, ‘things are never so good that they can’t be better.’
The education that our students receive has to prepare them to compete on a global scale – Heavy emphasis on STEM topics is required. The curriculum should also encourage critical thinking and minimize the ‘pseudo-science’ (probably not the best term, but I’m really talking about theories that are not well-vetted) that is passed off as fact.
My biggest contribution to the board is to justify spending so the taxpayers are getting a good return for their money. We need to ensure that the investment into school facilities, staff, programs and future expansion fits within the revenue model without the need for soliciting through numerous referendums.”
“As I mentioned earlier, when I checked my ballot and saw that this race was write-in only, and my friends and neighbors didn’t know who was running, I became concerned about the future of the board and school. The more I thought about who should run, the more I saw a fit between my abilities and what I would want to see in a candidate. It’s a relatively small district, so I’ve been able to get my message out through social media and personal contact over the past few days. I think I have a good chance of winning the approval of the public on Tuesday, and if so, I will work incredibly hard to make the outcomes at Stone Bank School second to none.”
Matt Carrico: Oconomowoc School Board
Carrico was endorsed by the Rebecca Pac, which is a new political action committee formed by former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch to support Republican candidates throughout Wisconsin. He is running for a seat on the Oconomowoc School Board. We asked him for a statement explaining his positions and background.
“We have two board members, Jessica Karnowski and James Wood, who have been fighting for our students throughout this difficult time. As a father of two OASD students I want to help them bring conservative values and offer my business skillset to serve our community,” Carrico told Wisconsin Right Now.
“After spending more than 20 years building a business, I understand how to be fiscally responsible, make tough decisions, and serve something bigger than myself. Our most immediate challenge is the hiring of both an interim superintendent and then a permanent replacement to lead our district for years to come. We need to understand that leadership changes create unique stress to any organization, and it could cause key members of our administrative team to look elsewhere. To keep our team together, we should be looking for a superintendent that will realize the good things we have happening and wants to build on them. I will bring a level-headed approach to the superintendent search and leadership to the board.”
He further explained to Oconomowoc Citizens Represented, “I earned a degree in business administration with a minor in economics. After graduation, we moved to Wisconsin so I could work full time in my family’s commercial swimming pool business which my parents and I started in 1998. Since our move here I have held many roles in the company and currently serve as the President managing the day-to-day operations.”
The incumbents seeking re-election are Jessica Karnowski, Juliet Steitzer and James Wood. Alexandra Schweitzer is the other challenger. An unsuccessful effort to recall Steitzer was launched after controversy over a vote to start the school year with a hybrid model. Both Karnowski and Wood voted to keep students in school five days a week, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Alexandra Schweitzer: Oconomowoc School Board
On her Facebook page, Schweitzer touts an endorsement from former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke. She writes, “Today Sheriff David Clarke spoke on Vicki McKenna about the importance of this upcoming election. He emphasized the importance of finding a candidate that is PARENT and TAXPAYER centered! He reminded the listeners to be careful of whom they select, don’t just choose someone because they say they have party alliance! Don’t pick the one that has spent the campaign season not getting to know the PARENTS and TAXPAYERS, but pandering to the unions. He emphasized that over and over. Who is Sheriff Clarke’s pick for Oconomowoc? Alexandra Schweitzer. I am THE grassroots CONSERVATIVE on the BALLOT.” She was also endorsed by Rebecca Pac among others.
Schweitzer told the Journal Sentinel, “We need to focus on the fact that schools are open, and we need to keep it that way.” She told Oconomowoc Citizens Represented that she’s conservative.
She told that group: “It’s time to give our children’s education back to We, the People, the taxpayers, the parents! It’s time to put kids first, and remove any and all agendas from their education!”
She explained, “After years of being a stay-at-home mom I’ve decided to ‘dust off’ my career that started by serving the people of the great state of North Carolina under the direction of Robert Wilkie at the North Carolina Republican Party. I went back to work this summer joining the fight to get schools open, working with a team putting cases in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocking municipalities from overstepping and closing religious schools. Most recently I was called to serve the President and worked alongside some of the most brilliant legal minds in this Country defending his right to a fair election.”
We reached out to Schweitzer to see if there was anything else she felt voters should know. She sent us this:
“In the wake of today’s cancel culture mentality my goal is to be there for more than just the immediate need of keeping schools open, getting masks off the kids. Conservative High School students are afraid to speak. Students from all over the state have contacted me with some pretty scary stories. I would like to help OHS become the leader of the pack and end that oppressive behavior,” she wrote.
She also pointed out that “three very popular Oconomowoc alderman are among my long list of unsolicited endorsements.”
Jessica Karnowski – Oconomowoc School Board
Karnowski is an incumbent. She also received an endorsement from Rebecca PAC.
“I have served this district in many capacities over the last 6 years, both in leadership roles and on subcommittees. I am a fiscal conservative who manages the delicate balance of prioritizing what is best for kids, staff, taxpayers and the district,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“Roles that I have had while serving on the Board consist of School Board President, Curriculum and Instruction Committee Chair, WASB Representative, Human Growth and Development Committee, Business Advisory Board, Athletic Strategic Planning, and Board Clerk.”
She told Citizens Represented, “I have been a resident of Oconomowoc for the last 20 years. I moved here, because it was important for my husband to stay in the community he grew up in, and he wanted to raise his family here.
I served our community for many years on the Oconomowoc Fire Department as an EMT Intermediate and retired several years after the girls were born.
I have 3 children. My girls are in high school at OHS, and my son is in 5th grade. After the district chose to teach in a hybrid model late summer, I had no choice but to enroll my son where he could attend school every day. Up until this school year, he attended school in the district.
I am a registered Dental Hygienist working in private practice and teach part time both at WCTC and Marquette Dental School.” Read more about her here.
James Wood – Oconomowoc School Board
Wood is an incumbent. He was endorsed by Rebecca PAC.
He told Citizens Represented, “I have been a resident of the Lake country area since I was 12 years old and a member of the Oconomowoc district for the last 19 years. I am married to my wife Jackie and we have 2 daughters Payton (7) and Reagan (6). Both our kids attend Meadow View Elementary School. Professionally, I am a Technology Systems Designer and Project Manager for Staff Electric.”
He also said, “My vision is a school district that partners with the parents to turn out the very best version of these kids they can be. It is not all about achievement (test scores) Growth (the measure of aptitude) might be more important when trying to maximize potential of all learners. The district can’t do it alone. I believe the district should take the lead on the academic skills and the parents provide an assist. I believe the parents should take the lead on morals and character development and I believe the district should provide an assist in that development.”
On Facebook, he wrote, “Since being elected in spring 2018, I was elected School District Clerk in 2019 and 2020. I have served on the Finance Operations and Advancement Committee for 3 years. 1 year as FOA Committee Member and 2 years as FOA Committee Chairperson. I have served on The District Strategic Planning Committee, The Athletic Strategic Planning Committee, The Superintendent Evaluation Design Committee, The School Board Self-Evaluation Design Committee, The OEA – District Collective Bargaining Committee in 2019 & 2020, and I have attended enough governance workshops to choke a horse.”
Read more about the backgrounds of Schweitzer, Carrico, Wood, and Karnowski here.
James Gunsalus: Elmbrook School District
The Waukesha County GOP lists James Gunsalus on its website.
He touts “taxpayer transparency, strong student outcomes, business background in medical contracting and financial analysis, and conservative fiscal budgets.”
He is quoted as saying, “My business background in the health services industry will enable me to make good decisions based on legal contracting, data and financial analysis experience.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted Gunsalus as saying, “My view is that the Elmbrook school district is no longer a non-partisan institution. The Democratic National Committee’s objectives of Critical Race Theory and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion mandates are infused into Elmbrook’s curricula, staff training, and parent programming.”
The newspaper reported that the Waukesha County GOP was funding ads supporting Gunsalus in the race saying that the district is teaching children that “all white people are racist, so equality has never existed.”
We contacted Gunsalus for more details on his campaign, and he provided us with this information that he also gave other news sites:
What do you believe is the most important issue facing the Elmbrook School District?
“I believe the most important issue is the overall education my kids and other parents’ children are receiving, at all grade levels. (MAP) scores have been on the decline since 2014-15. Actual data supporting this is on the Board of Education’s website.”
As a school board member, what would be your policy priorities?
“COVID, masks should be optional, the same way in-person/virtual was thought out… We need to get our kids back into school full-time. (Also) I will be a candidate that opposes indoctrinating the children with racism, mistruths about our nation and world history.
I want to hold the superintendent and his administration accountable for lax policies. Just recently a teacher this past fall provided a sex survey to the BCHS 10th graders which hit national news. In order to keep fresh perspectives, and to remove cronyism we must have a method of limiting the number of years a superintendent and school board members serve. I believe a flow of new and fresh involvement from the community will help keep the district strong.”
What makes you the right candidate for the job?
“People like me — parents invested in the district who aren’t part of the system — offer another perspective on the goals of education. Since at least 2014, the school district has accepted Common Core standards (which) presents a worldview to our students that fails to acknowledge American principles of freedom, equality, personal responsibility, and American exceptionalism. I will represent our community and do my best to invoke the best academic practices that better serve the values of our community.”
Emily Donohue: Elmbrook School Board
Some people are pushing Donohue as a write-in candidate. “SHARE THIS!!!!!! Brookfield and Elm Grove residents!!!! There is now a registered write in candidate opposing Jean Lambert who has been on the school board 15 years and watched our scores plummet while doing nothing. WRITE IN “Emily Donahue” when you vote and let’s get Lambert off the board!!” wrote one such supporter of the above flyer.
Donohue wrote on her website, “Our children’s education has been politicized and our community polarized this past year. Our kids deserve to have a school board united to make students a priority and I am a bridge builder who can do that.”
She added, “Emily Donohue is a loving wife to husband Matt, caring mother to her 3 children, and active member in the community. As a parent with children currently in the district, she has experienced first-hand the challenges our children have faced this past year. Emily’s dedication and commitment to the Elmbrook School District can be seen in her passion to make a positive impact in the community.”
Todd Doerfert: Hartford
Doerfert’s flyer emphasizes that he’s for merit pay, balanced budgets and responsible spending, and “real-world curriculum” on topics like the stock market, career advancement, and personal finances.
He told HUHS.org, “As a school board we need to understand that members of our district do not have unlimited disposable income. We must find ways to solve problems at the school which require less spending or no spending. Critics will say ‘that’s impossible,’ but I believe we can.
A good first step is to identify what our goal is as a school. Is our goal to buy each new item that all the surrounding schools have? Have we decided as a community that HUHS students will become more successful in life if we spend more money? Is it our goal to make the school look like a college campus? I believe our goals should focus on preparing students for life after HUHS.
Goal: During the 4 years at HUHS we ensure students develop their own 5-year, post high school plan to earn enough money to pay for a lifestyle of their choice.
I believe focusing on a 5-year post high school plan as soon as students start HUHS is important. First as a broad-based framework, then ideas would evolve as the student gets older. Finishing touches could be applied senior year when students are ready to start their independent adult lives.”
This grassroots organization formed to try to unseat some incumbents in the district.
“As more and more data comes out about the mental health effects of online learning, we have to ensure that those people in power who make the decisions regarding having our children learn remotely vs. in-person are truly acting in our children’s best interest, and not being influenced by special interests,” the group’s website says.
The group’s candidates are Kelly Ganiere, Michael Dudzik, Jerry Krist and Jeffrey Tilghman. You can read more about Take Back the Board PAC here. Another article on the group’s website says, “The fight to get students back into the classrooms this fall has frustrated parents across the country, but perhaps nowhere have families had to face unnecessary obstructions like those in Oak Creek, WI.”
The group opposes incumbent Leah Schreiber Johnson, writing, “Mrs. Schreiber Johnson has extensive and dogmatic ties to the Democrat Party, specifically the progressive wing of the party which has a deeply divisive attitude toward cooperative debate at all levels of government. Schreiber Johnson has repeatedly exhibited that divisive behavior in documented school board meetings. That toxicity does not belong as a voice on our school board, it never has. It is time that partisanship and divisive attitudes be replaced by candidates whose values work for the students and parents of Oak Creek, not self-interested political aspirations or special interest groups that continue to obstruct the emotional wellbeing and academic potential of our youth.”
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