After almost exactly one year of service, Kochanowski’s departure will leave one empty seat on closely-divided board
By Brandi Makuski
Alex Kochanowski on Thursday announced he had resigned from the Stevens Point School Board effective immediately.
In an email announcement to several of his supporters, some board members and Superintendent Attila Weninger, Kochanowski said it was last week’s “failure” to decide on a superintendent which prompted his decision.
“I will not support the failure of the board to select one of the recent candidates for superintendent; both of these professionals are extremely familiar with our schools and capable of leading our district,” the statement read. “I have decided to resign from the Stevens Point Board of Education effective immediately.”
After spending $16,000 on a nationwide search, the board had chosen two finalists from about 30 applicants; Jack Stoskopf Jr., the assistant superintendent for business/personnel services in the D.C. Everest School District, and Kehl Arnson, director of secondary education for the Stevens Point district.
At the late-night conclusion of its March 30th meeting, the board first announced it would delay a final vote on two candidates, but the following morning announced it would not hire either finalist and instead seek an interim superintendent for the following school year.
Front Running Favorite
Kochanowski was tops in last April’s election, earning 3,406 votes. He ran on a platform of blue collar humility and common sense; during last year’s campaign interview with the City Times, Kochanowski focused on concerns for students’ physical and emotional well-being. He discussed the relevance of past work experience in the fields of building maintenance, medicine, education and the city’s transit department, as well as his public service in the city’s volunteer police auxiliary unit.
During the March, 2014 interview Kochanowski also said it was a “lack of compromise” which caused dysfunction on the school board at that time. He also said some behavior displayed during the board meetings he attended prior to his campaign was nothing short of embarrassing.
Some of what Lisa Totten says is really cutting; if anyone would have had that said to them it would have made you feel bad. Me, being there in the audience, I felt embarrassed just to be in the room.
In a Q&A with the League of Women Voters, he outlined the strengths he would bring to the board if elected:
Good stewardship, respectfulness, and efficiency are my strengths that come from being a disciplined, self-motivated, problem solver who is a dependable, creative, empathetic, team player who has the ability to adapt and thrive in adversity with a professional attitude.
Kochanowski also spoke passionately about anti-bullying programs. He said bullying was a problem for his own children, and he planned to address it with district-wide initiatives after being elected.
Problems Arise Early
In July of 2014 Kochanowski hit his first public relations speed bump. Board Member Renae Sheibley had just resigned due to health issues, and the board had to chose one of four regular citizens who applied to fill the seat through the spring election.
Among the applicants was Police Chief Kevin Ruder, who oversaw the auxiliary unit on which Kochanowski volunteered. Though Kochanowski never indicated whether he planned to vote for or against Ruder, he quit the police auxiliary altogether- as opposed to simply abstaining- so he could participate in the vote. But Ruder withdrew at the 11th hour and threw his support behind applicant Meg Erler, who eventually won the appointment. Erler is currently running for a full term.
Going After the Media
In October Kochanowski began to dispute media reports on the school board, largely those published in the City Times, during his newly-implemented public listening sessions. During the first session Kochanowski harangued several then-recent news stories for about 30 minutes, and also complained to the audience how difficult his service on the board had been, leaving some in the audience that night wondering aloud if the listening sessions truly were about listening to the public.
Only two members of the public attended the second listening session held in November.
Following Superintendent Attila Weninger’s post-dated resignation in May, the board considered moving the district forward without a superintendent, instead operating a board-run district. Kochanowski first proposed the idea, saying he’d been studying the Omro School District in eastern Wisconsin- home to about 3,000 families- and was impressed how efficiently it operated without a superintendent.
The board voted to further study the option, taking several weeks to consider all available information and public input, but ultimately voted the option down.
Union Conflict Made Public
Board members voted to remove Kochanowski from the district’s negotiation committee on September 29th, after it was learned through his transit job with the city, he simultaneously belonged to the same union the committee was negotiating employee contracts with.
Kochanowski protested, saying his AFSCME Local #309 experience gave him a unique perspective, arguing, “someone has to look out for the employees”. But others on the board reasoned the district employees already had representation during negotiations, and Kochanowski’s job on the committee was to represent the district.
In November Kochanowski announced he was running for Mayor of Stevens Point. In a news release, Kochanowski said, “I am driven by being needed, and good leadership is needed; leadership that can recognize the potential of each member of the team and allow each person to contribute using their experience to benefit everyone as we move forward together.”
But even his candidacy was plagued with problems. City Clerk John Moe said he received complaints almost immediately about Kochanowski’s campaign yard signs, many of which did not include the required “Paid for by…” disclaimers. Moe said the signs were later amended to include handwritten disclaimers in ink.
In December, fellow mayoral candidate Tony Patton alleged Kochanowski had been illegally campaigning while on duty as a city bus driver. Kochanowski quickly fired off a letter to Moe denying the allegations, but several days later the city released documents and video clips confirming them. One video even showed Kochanowski degrading UWSP students in a conversation with passengers. The behavior cost Kochanowski his job with the city.
Without saying why, Kochanowski withdrew from the mayoral race in February.
What Happens Now
Kochanowski’s board resignation comes less than one week before the April 7th election, where three open board seats are being sought by four candidates. Board members Angel Faxon and Meg Erler are both seeking re-election.
Sam Levin, who has unsuccessfully campaigned for a seat on the board several times in the past, and newcomer Judy Rannow, who works with the Community Foundation and UWSP, are also vying for seats.
Bliss Educational Services Center was closed Friday, but City Clerk John Moe said based on state election laws, it’s likely Kochanowski’s seat will remain vacant until the board appoints a replacement. Kochanowski’s three-year term would have expired in 2017.
School Board President Angel Faxon was not immediately available for comment.