Controversy arises over write-in candidate’s video comments

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Burlington Area School District residents have decisions to make when they head to the polls for the Tuesday, April 6, election with four candidates – two incumbents and a challenger on the ballot as well as a write-in candidate – seeking the two available seats

Multiple term incumbents Taylor Wishau and Diane Wood are seeking re-election as their current three-year terms come to an end this month. Newcomer Marlo Brown also appears on the ballot and has aligned his campaign with Wishau’s as the two have shared campaign signs, mailers and events.

The fourth candidate, registered as an official write-in, is recent Burlington High School graduate Jayden Welch, who now attends Carroll University in Waukesha.

Voters who wish to cast a ballot for Welch will have to write his name on the appropriate spot on the ballot.

Welch’s campaign came under fire recently when opponents circulated a video that had been posted on social media in which he unleashes a profanity-laced tirade directed at Wishau, Brown and a Burlington area resident who is not seeking a seat on the School Board.

The video, which lasts about seven minutes, also includes vulgar comments about law enforcement and was presented, at least initially, as a reason for his decision to run for a School Board seat.

In response to questions about the video from the Standard Press, Welch said it should not be considered his official announcement and he referred a reporter to a statement he made regarding the video on March 19.

In the statement, he apologizes for his vulgar comments, indicating they were made in anger and frustration.

“…In a moment of anger and even more than that, in a moment of hurt, I said some things I didn’t mean on a private platform where I thought just my friends would see it. As we all know, nothing is truly private anymore. The video was recorded and is now being used to diminish the work I would like to do in this community,” he stated.

“What I need you all to understand is that I’ve been attacked in Burlington since the moment I set foot here. While you claim racism doesn’t exist here, I’ve lived it.”

Welch said the comments were in response to what he contends was an instance of racism in which he said opponents mischaracterized a peaceful protest planned by his campaign.

“The post I was so upset about in the video attempts to paint that protest in a violent and intimidating light instead,” he said. “It called my friends and I outsiders and suggested that we intended to harm our community. The woman that shared that post has attacked my family and slandered the character of a close family friend but that doesn’t make my response any more appropriate. I understand that and I am truly sorry.”

Despite the fallout from the video, Welch is asking voters to consider his platform before deciding.

“I am dedicated to change so that future generations never have to hit the same breaking points,” he said. “Again, I am sorry for my vulgarity and my lack of impulse control. As I work toward a better environment for our students, I work toward a better me as well.”

Candidate responses

The winning candidates in Tuesday’s election will be tasked with facing challenges that come the heels of a difficult year for the Burlington Area School District. Those include racially motivated incidents, which cast the district in an unfavorable light, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

All four candidates acknowledged the need for continuous improvement to achieve racial equity, according to the candidates.

The Standard Press sent forms to each candidate asking for the same biographical information, community involvement information and their reasons for running and what they hope to achieve if elected.

Here are their responses with the candidates listed in alphabetical order:

 

Marlo Brown

Marlo Brown

      Age: 49

      Education: High school graduate.

      Occupation: Inside sales

      Family: Married with four children.

      Previous political experience: First time running for office.

      Organizations: Burlington ChocolateFest Committee member.

 

Reason for seeking position:

Brown, a married father of four children, moved to the Burlington Area School District more than 16 years ago.

A newcomer seeking office, Brown looks to run because he believes he can offer fresh insight into critical conversations, outlining many key components.

“I decided to run because I feel I can bring diversity to conversations concerning curriculum, accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility with an open-minded approach,” he said. “These things are crucial for our children, our community, and our future.”

Brown, meanwhile, noted the school board should focus on four key areas to allow BASD to continue on its quest for excellence.

“We need a curriculum that gets back to the basics,” he said. “It should be well-rounded and inclusive for all students without ideological influence.”

As for accountability, Brown believes everyone should hold some responsibility, and partnerships can help.

“There has to be accountability for all, for the board, for the administration, staff and the students,” he said. “This is a partnership with families in educating their children and everyone must take ownership for their action or inaction.”

Brown added there is need to establish a better rapport with the community through transparent communication.

“The best way to establish confidence in the community, with students and educators is through communication,” Brown said. “The community should be able to trust that their concerns, priorities and needs are not only being heard, but addressed. Transparency can help build a stronger BASD.”

The fourth area relates to fiscal accountability to taxpayers.

“We all work extremely hard for our paychecks. It is only prudent to account for where our tax dollars rest,” Brown said. “We need to exercise the fiduciary responsibility the community expects.”

“Together, we can continue to strive for a better learning experience for all our children,” he added.

 

Taylor Wishau

Taylor Wishau, Inc.

      Age: 31

      Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

      Occupation: Business management and finance.

      Previous political experience: BASD board member, 2007-10 and 2018-present.

      Organizations: Racine County Youth Justice Advisory Committee.

Reason for seeking position:

Wishau, a lifelong Burlington resident, with the exception of 2012 to 2016, has served two stints on the school board with his first tenure from 2007 to 2010.

Wishau, chairman of the legislative liaison committee, previously served as chairman of the building and grounds committee, community education committee and long-range planning committee.

Additionally, Wishau is a member of the personnel, policy, and curriculum committees as well as the finance committee.

Previously, Wishau was part of the CESA 2 Board of Directors from 2007 to 2008 and from 2018 to 2019.

In the community, Wishau said he recently accepted an offer to join the Racine County Youth Justice Advisory Committee, according to his biography form.

“The goal is to transform our youth justice program, deliberately target racial disparities, and deliver better outcomes for Racine County children and their families.”

Wishau, meanwhile, seeks re-election to the board because he believes the Burlington Area School District and community needs to have a strong advocate on the board for students, staff and taxpayers.

“This past year has shown a tremendous amount of turmoil in our community and I am the only member of this board that has taken a stand to defend our students, staff, taxpayers, local businesses and community from an egregious assault upon them fostered by a group that promotes false narratives.”

The school district, he said, offers a tremendous value to taxpayers.

“We need to do a better job at being transparent on our successes and own our failures while communicating to the public what our plan is to correct those failures to prevent them in the future,” he said. “It’s a community conversation that requires transparency, and unfortunately, some of my colleagues on the board hinder all efforts for the district and board to be transparent and dialogue with the community.”

If elected, Wishau said his goal is to focus more on 21st century education models through STEM programs incorporating online learning into its curriculum to prepare students for post-secondary or career-ready options after they leave the district.

“Additional areas of focus include closing achievement gaps between all students, as I believe this is a districtwide responsibility,” he said. “We can do this by focusing more on literacy programs, understanding students’ culture and abilities and providing ongoing professional development for school leaders and staff to ensure effective strategies are implemented.”

Wishau, meanwhile, said the district needs to look into additional revenue opportunities through nontraditional means.

“We, as a district can also be more fiscally responsible in some areas by minimizing administrative costs and structure our capitol costs more effectively,” he said. “I would also like to see BASD focus more on trade school advocacy through expanding community partnerships and offering more options for students as a viable alternative to post-secondary options.”

As for the past year, marked by racially motivated incidents, Wishau said the board is lacking true leadership.

“Unfortunately, we lack true leadership at the board level, which I believe has led us to be in many of the situations the district currently is in and has faced over the past year,” he said. “It is unfortunate because a lot of what happened could have been avoided had board leadership taken a more proactive stance or role on issues of racism, equity, transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.”

The failure, he contends, put the district and community in an unfavorable position.

“I believe this failure has led to our school district and community being painted in unfair light, which has gained national attention for which I say, ‘Burlington is not a racist community,’” he said.

“I yield that we do have work to do as a school district and community, but that work should be free of political ideologies, egos and put the students first again,” Wishau added.

 

Jayden Welch

Jayden Welch

      Age: 19

      Education: Burlington High School, 2019; Gateway Technical College, Emergency Medical Technician Certification, 2019; Carroll University, Studying Biology and Pre-Medicine (Healthcare Administration).

      Occupation: Student.

      Family: Mother.

      Previous political experience: First time seeking public office.

      Organizations: Delta Rho Upsilon Fraternity.

 

Reason for seeking position:

Welch said he decided to register as a write-in candidate because of his experiences while attending school and living in the community.

“A lot of my motivation came from my experiences of racism and oppression throughout my time living in Burlington and going to school in the district,” he said. “I have too much of a love for students, especially as a student myself, to allow them to be oppressed during the most vital years of their development (K-12). All students no matter skin color, beliefs, or background deserve an education that is inclusive and non biased.”

Welch states being a recent graduate can become an asset to the Board of Education.

“The fact that I am recent graduate means a lot. Having graduated BHS in 2019, I would prove to be the most recent student of the district that would sit on the School Board,” he said. “This allows me to more closely align my values and goals with those that will best serve the students.”

Welch, who attends Carroll University, added his strengths can help the School Board better understand student needs.

 

Diane Wood

Diane Wood, Inc.

      Age: 68

      Education: Bachelor’s of science in elementary education, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point; master’s in education with an emphasis in gifted/talented education, Carthage College.

      Occupation: Retired teacher.

      Family: Married with three adult children.

      Previous political experience: BASD Board member, 1992-1998 and January 2019-present.

      Organizations: School board representative to Cooperative Educational Service Agency No. 2.

Reason for seeking position:

Wood, a district resident of 30 years, previously served on the school board from 1992 to 1998 and later was appointed to a second stint in January 2019.

A former educator, Wood seeks another term because she believes her experience can help the board.

“Being on the school board is a way to give to the schools and community where I raised my children,” she said. “When I was appointed to the board in 2019 due to a vacancy, I spoke to three qualities that I could bring to the table.”

Those qualities include expertise, experience and commitment, she said.

“I have been an educator for 37 years in both urban and suburban districts, most recently for the past 17 years in Kenosha, where I served on many district committees — especially related to curriculum, science and gifted/talented programming,” she said.

Noting her previous board experience, Wood said she has a committed track record, including willingness to serve on multiple committees.

“I also have shown my commitment to the position through preparation for and participation at all meetings, my involvement with the compensation committee and willingness to take advantage of Wisconsin Association of School Boards workshops and the district’s ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion training,” she said.

Wood recognized the district faces many challenges, but while obstacles exist, she noted positive developments have happened.

“These have been challenging times for our school district, but there are also many positive things happening,” she said. “I would like to continue to represent the BASD community and work with our administration and staff to provide the best education possible for our students.”