Throughout southeastern Wisconsin, conservative candidates are making a stand and trying to take back local school boards. 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 Gunsalas.
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.
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), but we are focusing on introducing you to some of the newcomers in this article.
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 topics at hand. I am able to multi task, stay calm when tensions are high, and present rational thought process 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.”
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 student 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 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 families 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 chose 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 along side some of the most brilliant legal minds in this Country defending his right to a fair election.”
Read more about the backgrounds of Schweitzer, Carrico, Wood, and Karnowski here.
James Gunsalas: Elmbrook School District
The Waukesha County GOP lists James Gunsalas 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 Gunsalas 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 Gunsalas in the race saying that the district is teaching children that “all white people are racist, so equality has never existed.”
Take Back the Board PAC: Oak Creek-Franklin
This grass roots 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.”
In the Lake Country, there are two candidates for school board who advance conservative values. We asked those candidates, Matt Carrico and Patrick Foy, to introduce themselves to our readers by explaining why they are running, what they stand for, and what background they bring to the table.
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.”