School board elections in southeastern Wisconsin heating up as politics get involved

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MEQUON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Some school board primary elections in southeastern Wisconsin on Tuesday, Feb. 15 are heating up as politics are pushed to the forefront.

School board elections are usually non-partisan, but that is not the case for some going into Tuesday.

"I think Waukesha voters are ready for the school boards to be less political," Matt Mareno said.

The Waukesha School District has three seats up for grabs with eight candidates, three of them running as openly conservative. The top six will move on to the election in April.

Matt Mareno, chair of the Waukesha Democratic Party, said politics are being played more than ever.

"Historically, we just have not seen the issues that we see today being attacked at the school board level being common. They are talking about banning books and banning pride flags," Mareno said. "Waukesha School Board has been all over national news in recent months for their decision to cut free lunch programs they were getting federal money for and their decision to take away pride flags and the Black Lives Matter signage and safe space signage in classrooms."

Three candidates are also running as conservative in Menomonee Falls. Eight candidates total are running for three open school board seats.

In Cedarburg, four seats are up for grabs with nine candidates looking for a spot on the school board.

"People are mean to the point that Jen Calzada has dropped out of the race and resigned her post. And so, it's definitely a very hostile environment right now," Heather Vetter said. "In the last couple of years, campaigns like this have become all-out war zones."

Heather Vetter, a mom with kids in the district, said the community is divided on COVID mandates and topics like critical race theory.

"What the kids should be learning and how much say the parents should have in what they're learning," she said.

In Mequon, people are getting ready to vote in another contentious election Tuesday after the recall election in November.

"We are one of the only school districts that are forcing masks on our children," Amber Schroeder said.

Amber Schroeder, a campaign organizer, said COVID protocols are also still a big factor in Tuesday's election.

"Critical race theory and curriculum transparency is still big and we're still fighting some book battles here in Mequon," she said. "I still do not think your political beliefs hinder your ability to run on a school board. I think people can put politics aside and make decisions for what's best for the community."

The top winners in each district will move on to the general election in April.

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