Incumbents Thistle, Rathsack face challenges from first-time candidates
Contested races have become somewhat rare occurrences in the Northern Ozaukee School District, but not so this year.
The April 5 ballot will have races for the Village of Fredonia and Town of Fredonia seats on the board.
Board members are elected by all district voters but they represent specific communities inside district boundaries.
In the Town of Fredonia race, longtime incumbent Kendall Thistle is being challenged by newcomer Scott Szczerbinski.
In the Village of Fredonia, a February primary election narrowed the field of hopefuls to incumbent William “Bob” Rathsack and challenger Patricia Barrie.
Thistle, N5549 Hwy. 57, immediately north of the school district campus, has served on the board since 1999.
He and the school district have been involved in a protracted litigation over flooding which was resolved when the district dropped the suit.
Thistle reminds officials of the cost of that legal action, which has topped $200,000, every time action is taken on bills. It is one of the reasons he says the district is in a difficult financial position.
“The board’s fiscal mismanagement and priorities have placed a heavy load on the local taxpayers,” Thistle said.
“I would expect to see within a couple of years a referendum to exceed the state budget limits for continual maintenance.”
Thistle said he is also concerned about the high number of residents who choose to attend school in other districts through the state’s open enrollment process.
He said the fact that one in five local students do not attend public schools in the district is alarming.
“It is my belief the district is not the problem,” Thistle said. “The problem resides with the board leadership and its minions. The fact the outrageous volume of outgoing students has remained so high over the years is evidence of this.”
Despite frequently being at odds with other members on the board, Thistle said a call to serve the community compels him to seek re-election.
“I have made decisions on the board by the simple priorities of children, taxpayers and staff,” he said. “I feel it is vital that our children get the best education they possibly can, and I believe I can be a positive driving force behind this.”
Szczerbinski, N5355 Lorraine Ct., operates his own remodeling business and has been a youth football coach.
He said he sees the election as his opportunity to give back to the community.
“I have a strong interest to see our school program grow,” Szczerbinski said. “We do need to maximize our school budget and that our school employees are reasonably compensated for their contributions to the district.”
He characterized himself as a “strong supporter of our school system.”
Still, Szczerbinski said the wellbeing of the school system cannot be taken for granted.
“Our schools continue to grow and need proper guidance in our academic offerings, extracurricular activities and maintenance programs,” Szczerbinski said. “I believe I can bring assistance to the district with my past experience in business and my volunteering in the community.”
He said serving on the School Board will give him a role in shaping the future of the community.
Rathsack, 207 Meadowbrook Dr., was appointed to the board last year following the resignation of Stephen Baumeister.
A 38-year resident of the village, he served 22 years as a school administrator, including six years as superintendent of the Northern Ozaukee School District.
Rathsack served 12 years as Fredonia’s village president, three years as a village trustee and two years as a supervisor on the Ozaukee County Board.
He said thoughtful leadership on the board is essential because of the tight budget picture, stressing that facilities cannot be neglected.
“As buildings get older, they are going to need some maintenance. I was surprised to hear the schools are still using their original heating plants,” Rathsack said.
“I think our maintenance crew does a good job of taking care of our facilities, but we can’t put off projects indefinitely. When you do that, it only ends up costing you more money.”
Rathsack said school officials are keeping a close eye on open enrollment numbers and student counts.
“The administration has been charged with the task of looking into what is causing our students to go to different school districts,” he said.
“It is something that is in the works, but I do know we have been losing students in significant numbers. I am interested in seeing what the administration comes up with.”
Barrie, 118 S. Milwaukee St., a mother of one, has lived in the school district since 2009. She is making her first bid at elected office.
Barrie said she is equally concerned about the loss of students to open enrollment.
“There is not enough follow-up on those who have left,” she said. “As the district shrinks, its hard to recruit outsiders when neighboring districts have more to offer.”
Echoing the thoughts of Thistle, Barrie said the district would find itself in a stronger financial position if it had handled its land dispute differently.
Without having those ongoing legal expenses she said “there would be a comfortable cushion to maintain the buildings and facilities.”
Barrie also criticized the district for “downsizing established athletics.”
Although it is not a contested race, district voters will have an opportunity to elect a new face to fill the board’s Town of Belgium seat.
Francis Kleckner, who has been on the board since 1985, is not seeking re-election.
The only candidate on the ballot for the Town of Belgium position is Daniel Large,, 1398 Hwy. A.
Incumbent Rick Hamm, 4365 Blueberry Rd., is the only candidate for the Town of Saukville seat on the board.