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Politics or policy? Digging deeper into Mequon-Thiensville's school board battle

Posted at 6:52 PM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 19:53:20-04

MEQUON — In a few days, voters in Mequon-Thiensville will decide the direction of the school board in a recall election that's getting national attention.

TMJ4's longtime political reporter Charles Benson takes a closer look at a race that has both sides dug in.

The yard signs are up for and against the recall and early voting is already underway.

This race is about who will control the Mequon-Thiensville School Board in the future, but it's also about past decisions on masks and COVID-19 protocol and conversations around curriculum and race.

Parents like Noah Domnitz have noticed the tone and tenor of this election.

"Whether it's the pandemic or education, things that we would typically say should remain outside the political sphere have become very divisive, and that's not a good thing for our community at all," said Domnitz after casting his ballot.

Financial records show GOP donors have backed the recall effort that has four challengers.

School Board Recall Candidates
Financial records show GOP donors have backed the recall effort that has four challengers.

Charles Benson: "Do you think this is about policy or politics?"

Thiensville Village President Van Mobley: "I think it's about policy, and I think it's about the long-term direction of the school district."

Republican Mobley supports the recall, and he's also Thiensville's Village President, a non-partisan elected office.

Mobley says he didn't like some of the board's recent decisions, but thinks the recall will make the school board more accountable to taxpayers.

"I think they're going to be more careful about the curriculum," said Mobley. "I think that they're going to exert greater authority over the superintendent, and he's seen publicly to detail."

Four of the seven school board members are being challenged in what is supposed to be a non-partisan election.

Current school board members
Current Mequon-Thiensville School District school board members.

"I think it's 100 million percent about politics and not about policy," said Melissa Baldauff, a Democratic strategist. "If it was about policy, they would wait until the elections in the spring."

Baldauff has been watching what is turning into very partisan battle. She's not involved in the race, but sees it as a political power grab.

"The goalposts have shifted on what the recall was actually about when it comes to this situation in Mequon-Thiensville," said Baldauff. "I think it's definitely about politics. It's about getting more power for themselves."

Ballotpedia has tracked 82 different school board recall efforts against more than 200 board members nationwide this year alone.

Wisconsin is in the top four when it comes to school board recalls. California leads the way with 25, Wisconsin has 11, Arizona has 10, and across the lake, Michigan has seven.

School board recall elections by state
School board recall elections by state.

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