Tuesday’s spring primary whittled the Milton School Board race to six candidates and eliminated Gabriel Szerlong and Brent Miller from contention.
Incumbent Brian Kvapil, often the board’s lone dissenting voice on facilities-related issues, led all candidates with 1,245 votes.
Diamond McKenna and incumbent Shelly Crull-Hanke followed, with each receiving more than 1,000 votes.
Joe Martin, Tony Astin and Harvey Smith all received enough support to remain on the ballot. They will need to make up ground before the April 3 general election to earn one of the board’s three open seats.
Kvapil and Crull-Hanke are seeking re-election, while six-term incumbent and current board President Bob Cullen is stepping aside.
Kvapil was surprised he received the most votes but said he was happy and grateful to pace eight “really good and really strong” candidates. With so many names on the ballot, Tuesday’s primary had plenty of possible outcomes, he said.
He said he was also impressed with McKenna’s second-place finish.
McKenna is a relative newcomer to the district. She and her husband moved to Milton last year from Janesville because they saw it as a better home for their technology business, Diamond Assets.
At 29, McKenna was the second-youngest candidate on the ballot. She has routinely touted her status as a new mom and local business owner as a reason to vote for her.
“I’m very excited,” McKenna said. “I think that it’s been (made) clear the Milton School District community is ready for a fresh face and a new perspective.”
She was not surprised she did so well in the primary, saying her effort to knock on doors and meet voters paid off.
Crull-Hanke, holding an early edge on the third and final spot, was pleased with the turnout. Rock County reported a 14.5 percent voter turnout, considerably higher than County Clerk Lisa Tollefson’s initial prediction of 6 percent to 8 percent.
Crull-Hanke, Martin and Astin shared similar strategies for sparking more support in the general election. They all planned on doing more community outreach to promote their message and plans for the district.
Smith narrowly avoided elimination, staving off Szerlong by an unofficial count of fewer than 30 votes. He was “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome because he had done little campaigning before the primary.
“Since I raised no money and spent no money and just participated in the forum, I feel pleased,” Smith said. “It must’ve been word of mouth that got my name around and got me through to the next round.”
But Smith has a long climb ahead of him. He’s more than 400 votes behind Crull-Hanke for the last school board seat.
Szerlong—the youngest candidate—and Miller are now cut from the ballot after finishing in seventh and eighth place, respectively.
The Gazette reported last week Miller was behind on tax payments for a property he owns. He partially paid off the remaining balance after he learned of the delinquency, he said.
Trimming Miller and Szerlong gives the race a little more breathing room. But with six candidates separated by 600 votes, how the general election shakes out is anyone’s guess.
“The results for the primary are nice, but I think we’re starting from ground zero for the regular election,” Kvapil said. “You can’t take anything for granted.
“As nice as the results are tonight, I really think it’s a new ballgame, and it’s all going to come down to who votes for the general election.”