Wisconsin voters will see only one statewide election on their ballots tomorrow — the race for the state’s new superintendent.
Candidates Jill Underly and Deborah Kerr will square off to lead the state’s Department of Public Instruction. That race comes as the state’s schools have weathered a turbulent year, after the pandemic forced districts to pivot to online education last spring.
The winner will replace current State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, whose term will end this July. The race is technically nonpartisan, meaning that neither of the candidates have formally filed with a political party.
But the two candidates have a distinct ideological split, with a strong Republican backing for Kerr and strong Democrat and union support for Underly. The unusual race has been a wild ride, with controversy along the way for both candidates.
On policy, Kerr supports expanded literacy and reading programs, which she also advocated for during her tenure as Brown Deer Schools’ superintendent. She’s also proposed a pedagogy of “character education” to reduce in-school violence, suspension and misbehavior.
She’s also proposed moving the Department of Public Instruction out of Madison.
“We need to disperse the bloated bureaucracy in Madison to the regions they are supposed to serve,” Kerr wrote in a March press release, “Under DPI’s current model, agency staff are plucked from the Madison area.”
Speaking on WORT’s A Public Affair last month, she told host Carousel Bayrd that her method will focus on a “back to the basics” approach to reading.
“Right now the state of Wisconsin is very fragmented in how we deliver reading instruction,” she said. “There are over 400 different ways our schools are teaching reading. So we need to align quality staff development and assessments our teachers understand, so that we can reach benchmarks and milestones needed to get kids reading at grade level.”
Kerr’s attracted some controversy on the campaign trail.
She’s previously come under fire for a racist tweet as well as using her private Brown Deer Schools work email to set up an independent business. At the time, Kerr still served as the district’s superintendent.
According to the Wisconsin Examiner, Kerr has also backed legislation that would bar trans girls from participating in school sports.
Her opponent in the race, Jill Underly, garnered the most votes in the February superintendent primary race — coming out on top of a seven-candidate field. Underly spent most of the past six years as the superintendent at the Pecatonica School District.
Underly is “strongly against” the expansion of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, as well as the expansion of “school choice” programs. Despite that professed opposition, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Underly briefly sent both of her children to a private school.
Underly also used her public school work email to allegedly aid campaign efforts ahead of her state superintendent bid, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On policy: Underly told A Public Affair last month that she supports reforming how the state funds schools.
“Our school systems are starved for cash,” she said. “So we need to make sure our school’s are well-funded. We’re going to have to look at different revenue streams and, possibly, new revenue streams. Because we can’t put the burden any more on our current system with our local taxpayers, they’re already paying so much.”
Underly’s also a proponent of expanding mental health resources for students, including adding a mental health professional to school staffing requirements.
That’s the only statewide race on your ballot — but there’s a bevy of competitive local races for alder, mayor, village president, village trustee, constable, school board, county supervisor, county executive, judge, and so on, depending on where you live.
In Madison, all alders are on tomorrow’s ballot. About half of those alder races are competitive, meaning voters will decide between two candidates.
Madisonians will also see four advisory referendum questions on their ballots tomorrow concerning the structure of the Madison Common Council. These questions deal with the compensation for alders, size of the Council, the length of alder terms and whether there should be term limits for alders.
Other localities will also see referenda on their ballot. The towns of Christiana and Cambridge will decide whether to borrow funds for a fire station, Mazomanie will decide a question on ATV use of roads and school districts in New Glarus and Wisconsin Heights will both see bond referenda.
School board members are also on the ballot. Of the more than forty school board races across Dane County, 27 are competitive. The only school districts with no competitive school board races this year are Madison Metropolitan and River Valley.
The city of Monona will see a competitive election for Mayor, between incumbent Mary O’Connor and challenger Kristie Goforth, as well as a competitive race for several alders.
Fitchburg will see several competitive seats on the ballot, including three city council seats.
Meanwhile, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will have a challenger on tomorrow’s ballot — but his opponent in the race, Mary Ann Nicholson, suspended her campaigning activities earlier this spring.
Two Dane County Board seats will have special elections to fill vacancies for a one year term. One is contested, and one is not.
If you aren’t registered to vote in the spring election — don’t worry. You are allowed to register and vote at your polling place tomorrow. If you’re unsure if you’re registered, you can check your status at MyVote.WI.Gov.
You’ll need to provide proof of residence to register. That could be a utility bill issued in the last 90 days, a bank statement or a current and valid Wisconsin driver license or ID. More examples are available online at the Madison city clerk’s website.
You’ll also need to provide an acceptable photo ID to cast your ballot.
More than 35,000 people just in the city of Madison, or about 18 percent of the city’s registered voters, have requested an absentee ballot as of this afternoon. If you requested an absentee ballot but have not returned it, know that it’s too late to mail it in.
The blue absentee ballot dropboxes scattered across Madison are also now closed as of an hour ago. Instead, you can return your ballot to your polling location tomorrow, and you can also ask a friend or neighbor to drop it off.
For more information, and to find your polling location, contact your local clerk’s office.
Madisonians can also find candidate debates and more information at WORT’s ‘Spring 2021 Election’ page.
(PHOTO: Element5 Digital / Unsplash)