Milton school board member steps down after 28 years

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
— Twenty-eight years on the Milton School Board and Al Roehl’s done.

And after all those years, he doesn’t even have a flowery emotional speech prepared.

“I’ll miss it, but not the headaches,” Roehl told the Gazette this week.

A school board member almost continuously since 1982, the 64-year-old Milton area resident knew his seat would be up in the spring election. In the late months of 2010, he decided against running again.

“I always enjoyed it. It was always a privilege,” Roehl said. “But between myself and my wife, we decided it was time for me to hang up the shingle.”

In his time on the board, Roehl has seen his share of shingles hung: 24 different board members; four school superintendents; and according to Gazette files, he’s had at least two hairstyles and three different styles of eyeglasses.

During his tenure, Roehl sat through thousands of board and committee meetings, saw state champion sports teams come and go, witnessed the development of Schilberg Park and Northside Intermediate school and watched plans to build a new Milton High School rise and fall.

His departure now comes as Wisconsin schools face a Republican-driven public employee union overhaul that could change dramatically how teachers, school administrators and school boards interact.

Roehl summed up the shifting political winds.

“It’s a whole different ballgame,” he said. “Times are a-changing, and the lawyers are going to get rich.”

It was a boilerplate Al Roehl comment: direct and anything but ornate.

“I’m not a gunslinger,” Roehl said. “But I speak my piece. You might not agree with it, and that’s alright.”

Roehl has been retired since 2000. But for much of his time on the board, he was a line worker at the General Motors plant in Janesville. He used to pore over board packets and school budget documents during work breaks at the plant.

Roehl said he feels he always represented the blue-collar taxpayer. And he said he believes not everyone on a local school board must be a white-collar professional.

“It’s not a preres … prereq … you know what I’m saying,” said Roehl.

Roehl’s seen 28 years of school controversies come and go, but he said a few jump out in his memory. Perhaps the biggest arose in 1991 when Milton resident Carol Hand filed a complaint to get the district to change its sports nickname and logo from the Redmen, which depicted an Indian warrior in a headdress.

The issue sparked nearly a decade of court fights and caused community dissent, and it wasn’t until 1999 that the school board finally voted to install a change. The school’s sports teams now are known as the Red Hawks.

Roehl also remembers being one of only two board members who voted against the name change.

“There were people on both sides of the issue at that meeting. Just put it that way,” he said.

Roehl said he sacrificed a lot of nights away from his family and his wife, Mary, but one of his proudest moments as a board member was when he was able to personally hand his daughter, Betsy Schroeder, her high school diploma.

Roehl said he’d most miss visits to the Milton schools, when he’d pop his head into classrooms.

“It was always about kids first,” he said.

Roehl said he still plans to volunteer at school football games and track meets. He also plans to attend school board meetings, especially when an issue arises that tempts him to stand and speak his mind.

Last updated: 4:53 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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