State superintendent candidate says opponent made offer
MADISON (AP) -- A candidate for Wisconsin state superintendent accused an opponent Wednesday of offering him a three-year $150,000 job in the Department of Public Instruction, and a personal driver, if he dropped out of the race.
John Humphries made the allegation against Lowell Holtz during a debate on WISN-AM radio. They are both challenging incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers. The top two vote-getters in Tuesday's primary will advance to the April 4 general election.
Holtz called Humphries' allegations a "bunch of liberal BS." Holtz said unnamed business people asked him and Humphries to discuss options for working together and that ideas were thrown around but "there was no specific proposal."
Humphries referenced a document he said Holtz presented during their meeting. Humphries later provided that document to The Associated Press. It says "3yr no-cut contract 150k, full benefits, driver" under each of their names.
It also says Holtz, as state superintendent, would have "complete authority over Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, and Madison (Green Bay can be negotiated)." It also said he could create rules for the districts, change school boards "when I deem it necessary" and break apart districts.
"You identify me as the superintendent in charge of those four urban districts with the authority and autonomy that goes with the office of WI State Superintendent," the document said under Holtz's name. "We are going to shake up Milwaukee and it is going to make noise."
Holtz said in a statement to AP after the debate that the document was a "rough draft and a conversation starter about what an agreement between us working together could look like."
"Unfortunately, we are on totally opposite ends of the political spectrum," Holtz said. "The differences between Mr. Humphries' approach to education and mine were too stark to be reconciled, so the conversation ended there."
The state superintendent's salary is set by law at $120,111. No one in the agency he runs makes $150,000 or more and no one has a personal driver, said Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy.
Also, the state superintendent does not have the authority to unilaterally change school boards, break apart districts or appoint staff or administrators to districts as the document Humphries released envisioned.
"This would be an unprecedented shift in who controls our local schools," McCarthy said.
Humphries said in an interview after the debate that he found the offer from Holtz to be "ludicrous" and rejected it. Humphries said during the WISN debate that the proposal sounded like a state takeover of schools from the state superintendent's office, which he opposes. Humphries has called for allowing poor-performing schools to be reorganized into charter or private voucher schools at the local level.
Humphries and Holtz are both trying to run as a more conservative alternative to Evers, who is backed by Democrats, teachers unions and public school advocates. Holtz has been endorsed by Republican lawmakers and conservative groups including Pro-Life Wisconsin.
Humphries said it was up to Holtz to say who the business people were who suggested they meet. Holtz did not name them during the debate or in the statement he provided in response to follow up questions.