La Crosse school board race still uncalled as election workers count thousands of write-ins

Nearly half of all votes cast in the April 2 school board election were for a write-in candidate

Canvassers look at slips of paper containing vote tallies
Kallie Arenz and Kyle Petrashek, electors chosen to serve on the board of canvassers, review the votes cast in the La Crosse School Board election during a meeting at the Hogan Administrative Center on Monday, April 9, 2024. (Hope Kirwan/WPR)

A week after Wisconsin’s spring election, the school board race in La Crosse has not been called as of Tuesday morning due to a large number of write-in candidates.

Only two candidates submitted papers to run for three open seats on the La Crosse School Board, prompting seven write-in candidates to launch their own campaigns.

Unofficial results from the April 2 election show the write-in candidates received 9,691 votes, or about 48 percent.

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Tim Alberts, a sales manager for La Crosse Beverage, won just under 30 percent of the vote, while Central High School senior Adam Manka won 22 percent of votes, according to unofficial results.

On Monday afternoon, the district’s board of canvassers began their work to verify all of the votes cast in the election. 

Merideth Garcia, who serves as clerk on the La Crosse School Board, and two volunteer canvassers double checked the number of votes each person received, sometimes going through several different spellings of the same name.

Garcia said on Election Day, the poll workers wrote down the names as they appeared on the ballot. It’s up to the canvassers to decide whether votes for a misspelled name should go toward one of the candidates.  

“That’s going to be the big work today, is trying to make sure that we honor every voter’s intent,” Garcia said on Monday.

With at least one of the school board seats guaranteed to go to a write-in, she said the process is a bit unusual this year. She said the board has until 4 pm on Tuesday to finish the canvass.

The election comes as the La Crosse School Board is facing decisions about the future of facilities in the district.

Since 2022, the district has worked to find a way to reduce the number of school buildings, citing a sustained decline in enrollment and rising maintenance costs from the age of the facilities. The consolidation plan was a key talking point for many of the candidates ahead of the April school board race.

In March, the board approved the language for a $53.5 million building referendum for the November election. The plan would consolidate two of the district’s nine elementary schools, Emerson and Spence, into a new building on the site of the district’s administrative offices. It would also expand the number of classrooms at State Road Elementary School, in order to close Hintgen Elementary.

A district press release said the plan will “right-size the district” and help balance the budget.

La Crosse voters rejected a $195 million school district referendum in November 2022 that would have provided funds for closing two high schools and consolidating them at a new site. The plan would also have closed and relocated the district’s three middle schools.

Garcia said the long-term planning work is much like the canvassing process: checking numbers and verifying  the impact.

“It’s important to get it right so that we understand who the voters voted for,” she said. “But once people get on the board, the job then is to work together and make the decisions.”