West Bend school election looms large

It’s only two months until the April 2 elections for two positions on the West Bend School District Board, and it looks to be another pivotal contest.

The contest pits two well-known candidates against two lesser-known candidates. In the experienced and well-known half of the race will be Chris Zwygart, who has served masterfully as president of the board, and Christophe Jenkins, who served briefly as the mayor of West Bend. Two challengers, Bill Schulz, a scurrilous critic of the district who ran and lost in the last election, and Sonal Ramani, a seasoned human resource manager at Metalcraft of Mayville, which has a large plant in West Bend.

The contest has wide ramifications for how the district is governed and managed. The current board consists of five centrists and two members who have connections with the religious right that want culture-war oversight of curriculum content and books in the school library. Schulz has associated with the righteous right. Jenkins, a Mormon, has appeared with the right-wing antagonists in campaign photos. How much he buys into their cultural agenda is not yet known. Schulz said that Jenkins endorsed him in the 2023 school board election where he finished fourth behind June Kruger, Dr. Chad Tamez and Kelly Lang.

Depending on where Jenkins comes down, the election could tip the board to a four-three majority that would want to impose their cultural agenda. The culture wars that are raging in the country would play out on the West Bend school board.

The centrists, including Zwygart, chief legal officer at West Bend Mutual Insurance Co., the county’s largest employer, concern themselves with basic education issues and financial stewardship of the district. Zwygart is also a CPA and has decades of business experience.

Sonal Ramani, who looks to be a centrist, holds a business degree from Northern Illinois University and has spent her career in manufacturing management. A big part of her human relations job has been in building a work force for Metalcraft. She leads initiatives in recruiting, on-boarding, training, promoting and retaining employees.

She has pioneered a youth apprenticeship program in which high school juniors and seniors spend part of their time in class and part in the world of work. She knows how to use tough love in getting youngsters to meet the expectations of an adult world of work.

Long and short, she would represent the voice of the customers of the school district, namely employers that hire the district graduates. She would also represent the voice of parents; she has two youngsters in the school system.

Jenkins also has management experience and holds a master’s degree in public administration. He stepped down after a term as mayor and is now village and town administrator for Fredonia. He has children in the West Bend school district.

Employers and parents want a stable, well-funded, professionally managed school system. As taxpayers and citizens, they deserve it. They don’t deserve religious or political agenda put in the forefront on how our schools are run.

The coming weeks will reveal much more about the four candidates. Let’s listen carefully to what they say.

The district’s finances have bever been in better shape, so that issue will largely be off the table. Declining enrollments will continue to be a critical reality. Career and workforce challenges will be foremost in an era of profound labor shortages.

Unfortunately, culture war issues are not going away.

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