Superintendent candidate chastised over bleacher donation

AP

Print Article

FILE - This undated file photo shows Lowell Holtz, a candidate for Wisconsin state superintendent. Holtz, a former teacher, principal and superintendent who is now retired, will face incumbent Tony Evers in the April 4, 2017, election. Personal records show that Holtz was chastised by the school board where he most recently worked for donating football field bleachers to a nearby private school his children attended without notifying the board. (Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) State superintendent candidate Lowell Holtz was chastised by the school board where he most recently worked for donating football field bleachers to a nearby private school his children attended without notifying the board, personnel records show.

The records also show he was at odds with the Whitnall School District board over his communication about a district employee who used a computer to facilitate a sex crime.

Holtz retired in June as superintendent of Whitnall, in Greenfield, after clashing with the school board. Holtz faces two-term state superintendent Tony Evers in the April 4 election. Though it is officially nonpartisan, conservatives are lined up behind Holtz while liberals are backing Evers.

The superintendent oversees the state Department of Public Instruction, which runs K-12 education policy, curriculum and programs, and administers state and federal aid for all 424 public school districts. The department also works with private schools in the choice program and runs teacher licensing and regulation.

Liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now received Holtz's personnel file through an open records request and provided them to The Associated Press.

Holtz on Monday downplayed concerns raised by his former employer in his personnel file, including performance reviews in which he was faulted as being a poor communicator and leader.

"Anybody can criticize somebody who is doing their job," Holtz said in an interview. "I've been doing this for over 30 years. Sometimes you make great decisions and sometimes you make decisions that are upsetting to people on the board."

Holtz's 2013 performance review faulted him for not immediately notifying parents after the district's food services director was arrested, and later convicted, for using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime. Holtz didn't release information about it for two weeks.

Holtz said he withheld the information at the request of police as the investigation was ongoing, and he organized a community meeting about the issue once the arrest was made public by a journalist.

"My rule is kids first, informing people second," Holtz said.

A 2012 letter from the board titled "Item of Concern" faulted Holtz for giving away bleachers to Luther Prep in Watertown following renovation of the Whitnall football field. The letter said Holtz gave them to a private school his children attend without telling the board, in apparent violation of district policy.

"You are expected to follow Board policies," Holtz was told.

Holtz denied that he had violated policy. He said in a response letter, and on Monday, that he actually saved the district "thousands of dollars" the construction company would have charged to take apart and dispose of the bleachers. He said the only school that could take the bleachers "happened to be a school that my children have attended."

Holtz said in the letter that he approved donating the bleachers using authority granted to him by the board to oversee the construction project.

"It really wasn't a big conflict," Holtz said Monday.

Holtz downplayed his uneven performance reviews from 2014 and 2015, saying they reflected criticism from individual members, many of whom were new to the board.

Also on Monday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that a Whitnall School Board member was planning to request the district pursue recouping money from Holtz for allegedly doing personal campaign work on the district's time. Holtz sent emails from his Whitnall account during school days talking about the campaign, soliciting advice and arranging meetings.

One Wisconsin Now's research director, Jenni Dye, said the records show Holtz can't be trusted.

"Lowell Holtz has spent his campaign taking shots at the performance of our students and teachers, but he's the one who got failing marks wherever he worked," she said. Holtz has criticized Evers for not doing enough to raise graduation rates and school performance.

Holtz was hired in 2010 to be superintendent in Whitnall, which encompasses five school districts southwest of Milwaukee.

He previously worked six years as an elementary school principal in Peshtigo, where he earned the state Principal of the Year award in 1999 and a national distinguished principal award from the U.S. Department of Education.

But the Cambridge district school board voted not to renew his contract in 1995. School Board President Mark Sewell said in a letter to the Wisconsin State Journal at the time that Holtz had divided the community after taking seven weeks off to be with his newborn child.

Holtz went on to work as superintendent of the Palmyra-Eagle School District for four years and was superintendent in Beloit for three years before leaving in 2009 to run for state superintendent.

While superintendent in Beloit, Holtz received a letter of reprimand from the school board in 2008 after he allowed a camera crew working on a video supporting then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to film inside the high school. The board said Holtz violated policies by allowing the political filming inside a school and that he should have given the board advance notice. The board also faulted him for allowing the filming of students under the age of 18 without parental consent.

The board, in a letter to Holtz, said the latest problems were "consistent with prior concerns" related with how he communicated with the board.

___

Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

Print Article

Read More Wisconsin News

Wisconsin lawmakers tour youth prison, but accounts differ

AP

March 30, 2017 at 1:14 pm | MADISON, Wis. (AP) A Democratic lawmaker said that touring the state's youth prison left him with serious concerns about conditions there while a Republican said he was pleasantly surprised by what...

Comments

Read More

Fitzgerald says Republicans wouldn't override roads veto

AP

March 30, 2017 at 1:06 pm | MADISON, Wis. (AP) The Republican-controlled Legislature would never vote to override a veto by Gov. Scott Walker to enact a gas tax increase against his wishes, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzge...

Comments

Read More

New super PAC forms to support Nicholson Senate run

AP

March 30, 2017 at 1:00 pm | MADISON, Wis. (AP) A Republican mega-donor has contributed $2 million to a super PAC to support a widely expected run for the U.S. Senate by former Marine and political newcomer Kevin Nicholson. ...

Comments

Read More

The Latest: UW leader hopes Oshkosh transfers won't hurt aid

AP

March 30, 2017 at 12:40 pm | MADISON, Wis. (AP) The Latest on budget briefings and discussion of an audit for the University of Wisconsin (all times local): 1:40 p.m. University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross ...

Comments

Read More