Contested races highlight school ballot

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.  width=270 height=1187 style=margin: 5px; float: right; /></span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Board members are elected by all district voters but they represent specific communities inside district boundaries.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>In the Town of Fredonia race, longtime incumbent Kendall Thistle is being challenged by newcomer Scott Szczerbinski.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>In the Village of Fredonia, a February primary election narrowed the field of hopefuls to incumbent William “Bob” Rathsack and challenger Patricia Barrie.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Thistle, N5549 Hwy. 57, immediately north of the school district campus, has served on the board since 1999.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He and the school district have been involved in a protracted litigation over flooding which was resolved when the district dropped the suit.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“The board’s fiscal mismanagement and priorities have placed a heavy load on the local taxpayers,” Thistle said.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“I would expect to see within a couple of years a referendum to exceed the state budget limits for continual maintenance.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He said the fact that one in five local students do not attend public schools in the district is alarming.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Szczerbinski, N5355 Lorraine Ct., operates his own remodeling business and has been a youth football coach.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He said he sees the election as his opportunity to give back to the community.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He characterized himself as a “strong supporter of our school system.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Still, Szczerbinski said the wellbeing of the school system cannot be taken for granted.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He said serving on the School Board will give him a role in shaping the future of the community.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Rathsack, 207 Meadowbrook Dr., was appointed to the board last year following the resignation of Stephen Baumeister.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>He said thoughtful leadership on the board is essential because of the tight budget picture, stressing that facilities cannot be neglected.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Rathsack said school officials are keeping a close eye on open enrollment numbers and student counts.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“The administration has been charged with the task of looking into what is causing our students to go to different school districts,” he said.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Barrie said she is equally concerned about the loss of students to open enrollment.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span class=s2 style=font-size: 8pt;>“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.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Without having those ongoing legal expenses she said “there would be a comfortable cushion to maintain the buildings and facilities.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Barrie also criticized the district for “downsizing established athletics.”</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>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.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Francis Kleckner, who has been on the board since 1985, is not seeking re-election.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>The only candidate on the ballot for the Town of Belgium position is Daniel Large,, 1398 Hwy. A.</span></p>
<p class=p3><span style=font-size: 8pt;>Incumbent Rick Hamm, 4365 Blueberry Rd., is the only candidate for the Town of Saukville seat on the board.</span></p>



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