Following the airing of a TV campaign advertisement in late July supporting Gov. Scott Walker that featured the Three Lakes School District, the Three Lakes School Board has called a special meeting this Thursday, Aug. 9.

The agenda reads: “Discussion and possible action regarding school board policy on political partisanship and matters relating thereto.” The meeting will start at 5 p.m. in the school board room.

District Administrator George Karling said he received school board permission to allow Walker to tape the piece, though Karling said he did not know it was for a campaign advertisement that would air across northcentral Wisconsin.

“Basially, Sen. Tom Tiffa­ny called me and asked me if I had a couple of people, teachers, that might thank the governor for sparsity aid and direct per-pupil aid. I said we’ll see,” said Karling. 

“So I talked to a couple of teachers, Wendy Walker being one and Al Votis, that were there. They said, ‘Yes, we’ll do that.’ Then I went to my board and said they want to film them in school. Their response was ‘If the governor comes, it’s OK,’ ” said Karling. 

School board member Terry McCloskey, Dave Kirby of the custodial staff, a former student and Walker also appeared in the campaign advertisement, filmed on the school grounds.

“I know for a fact they (school board) weren’t thinking about an ad and I know I wasn’t thinking about an ad, a campaign ad,” said Karling. “My idea was it was good for him (Walker) to see our Fab Lab because we were teaching other districts on that day. And that’s what it was.” 

Karling said he understands he has to work on both sides of the aisle to help education and the Three Lakes School District. He said he has done that in the past when battling for school funds.

“I just got to tell you, it was a lapse on my part. It never dawned on me they were doing a political ad. I’m sorry about that,” Karling told the News-Review in an exclusive interview last week. “Some people like it and some people don’t like it. But the bottom line is we are not partisan. We work with people on both sides of the aisle. It just didn’t register. 

“We were thinking this is going to be good for the school. We’re going to do some things with this. Get some mileage you know. That was our intent. It was a mistake,” said Karling. “We don’t want to divide the community to think we are being partisan. Our board has been very careful. We weren’t thinking on those terms.”

Karling said he did not see the advertisement before it was aired. He also said he has met with some board members and some staff, who were surprised by the partisan stance, since the ad aired.

“I didn’t think it was going to be an endorsement. That was not our intent. It’s upsetting. I missed it. We just talked about someone thanking the governor through Tom (Tiffany),” said Karling.

Tiffany, in a follow-up telephone interview with the News-Review, said he did contact Karling over the phone in regard to the campaign ad. But Tiffany said Karling may have missed the mention of it being for a campaign ad.

“I talked to him and said I believe it’s coming from the campaign side, but I only mentioned it once,” said Tiffany. “When George picked up the phone, he said, ‘Hey Tom, what do you got, I don’t have much time.’ So it was evident that he was busy also so I can see how he missed that part of it and I only mentioned it to him once. I just said I believe this is coming from the campaign side. 

“I had been talking to some of the governor’s people about it and especially some of the campaign people, so I was pretty certain that it was coming from the campaign side,” said Tiffany. 

“An important point is I didn’t reiterate that to George,” said Tiffany. “I’ve made these requests to George three or four times coming from the legislative side when we’ve been through the Three Lakes School, so I kind of get it how he thought, OK so this is just coming from the legislative side.”

Tiffany admitted that school districts try to stay nonpartisan because they have to work with both sides of the aisle on funding issues. 

“I think the Three Lakes School has always been good about that. I believe that (Department of Public Instruction Secretary) Tony Evers and others from DPI have been through the Three Lakes School,” said Tiffany, “so I think they have been real good about that. So whoever wants to go through the place, they are welcome.”

Tiffany said the ad ran for only about one week.

Asked if it was pulled due to pressure being applied from community members in the Three Lakes School District, Tiffany said it was scheduled to be pulled. 

“I think it’s a nonissue,” said Tiffany.

Tiffany was asked about a school district being nonpartisan. 

“You know, the other side, they don’t want good things like what’s happening in Three Lakes being out there,” said Tiffany. “Act 10 was not easy. It was strong medicine for the state of Wisconsin, but now we are putting a lot of money back into schools. You’re seeing innovative things like Fab Labs with state money. One Fab Lab success story is in Three Lakes. They are the model that has been followed statewide.” 

Tiffany also was asked if the Three Lakes School showing a partisan side, even if it was a mistake, could hurt future votes for referendums to exceed the revenue limit or building projects. Three Lakes also has an electors vote set for Aug. 22 at the annual meeting to purchase 40 acres between Three Lakes and Sugar Camp for educational purposes.

“If they are going to vote against a referendum, I think that is called cutting your nose off to spite your face,” said Tiffany. 

“I think it was a case of misunderstanding,” said Tif­fany, noting there was no paper trail in developing the ad. “I thought he (Karling) knew it was from the campaign side. I understand how it could happen.” 

Karling said the special meeting Thursday will allow the board members to discuss a school district policy regarding political partisanship.