LOCAL NEWS: Wausau School Board Tuesday, April 4 Election

The March 12 death of incumbent Yvonne Henning may cause some confusion on the ballot

This year four candidates vie for three seats up for election on the nine-person Wausau School District Board of Education. Those include two incumbents, Jeff Leigh and board president Lance Trollop, defending their seats against challengers Jeff Kocha and Lee Webster.

They are divided on the transgender bathroom issue, which still remains an issue. Challengers Kocha and Webster maintain that the rule that allows children to use the bathroom they identify with needs more specificity, while Trollop and Leigh say since the rule was implemented there hasn’t yet been a single problem.

On the ballot, voters are to choose up to three candidates, with the top three getting the seats. The ballot shows five names, though. School board member Yvonne Henning, 72, died March 12—far too late for another candidate to get on the ballot. Henning’s name remains on the ballot, and school officials confirmed that if her name is among the top three, the board would appoint a candidate to fill the position.

School board terms are for three years, with three of the nine seats up for election every spring. The Wausau School District boundary encompasses most of the city of Wausau and towns of Stettin, Wausau, and Berlin; and all voters in the towns Rib Mountain, Hewitt, Maine and Texas.

Jeff Kocha, challenger 


Age: 48

Occupation: Sales, territory representative for Black Hawk Industrial

Kocha’s number one priority is advocating for the elimination of Common Core, a set of academic standards in math and English language arts that 42 states have voluntarily adopted. Kocha says those standards are too restrictive and make it impossible for teachers to tailor learning to each individual student.

On the Wausau School District’s guidelines allowing transgender students to use locker rooms and bathrooms of their choice: Kocha calls it “horrendous.” He’s not against transgender students using the bathroom of their choice, but wants the guidelines narrowed to ensure other students aren’t taking advantage of or abusing the guidelines.

Kocha says he wants to see more community involvement in education and more clear opportunities for parents to pitch in. He also wants to lobby against state exams such as the Forward testing, which undercuts what Wausau’s great teachers are already doing.

Lance Trollop, incumbent 


Age: 41

Occupation: Attorney, Bremer and Trollop

Trollop says his primary focus is on student achievement and the recruitment and retention of good teachers. When asked about a major change or initiative he wanted to focus on this year, Trollop says that would miss the point: “Being a good school board member is a huge commitment and it requires a broad focus on the entire district and many issues every day, not one ‘change,’” Trollop says.

While Trollop says he doesn’t agree with every provision in the transgender bathroom guidelines, he understands the board’s decision and says the rules (a final version adopted last fall), haven’t really been an issue so far in the schools themselves. Trollop says he’s provided solid service to the school board and voters should consider that at the polls.

Jeff Leigh, incumbent 


Age: 52

Occupation: History professor, UW-Marathon

Recruiting and retaining teachers by keeping morale high will be one of the district’s biggest issues going forward in the next term, Leigh says. Teacher recruitment has become a state and national issue, he says, and the district needs to make sure it can attract the best talent.

Not a single incident has resulted from the transgender bathroom guidelines first put in place last summer, Leigh says; on the contrary, the guidelines have done a lot of good for transgender students in the district.

One of the biggest issues will be boundary changes for schools, which is the result of a long process that included public input. Leigh cited the building changes and improvements to the technology education programs as an example of what the district is doing right, and says they’ve been overwhelmed with requests from Chinese educators looking to come to the Wausau School District to learn from teachers here. Leigh says he knows the issues from his time on the board and as an educator himself, and wants to continue that for another three years.

Lee Webster, challenger 


Age: 72

Occupation: Director of Center for Human Development mental health counseling

Local control is one of the most important issues facing the school board, Webster says, and the transgender guidelines are a good example of that. The board ignored an outpouring of community input in adopting the federal guidelines, Webster says, and that’s an example of the federal government interfering in local affairs.

Going forward, Webster wants to see more of the kind of career development happening now in the technology education department. He echoed Kocha’s views on Common Core and says education should be more focused on career development. He lauded the school’s automotive and professional career prep DECA programs, for instance, and wants to see more programs in that vein. A counselor and clinical social worker, Webster says he offers a different perspective to the current school board makeup.