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January 26, 2020

Jamie Taylor/River NewsSchool board secretary Mary Peterson administers the oath of office to Merlin Van Buren Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 in the tiered classroom at Rhinelander High School. Van Buren was appointed to the board after receiving votes from a majority of the eight members. He will fill Ben Roskoskey’s seat while Roskoskey is deployed with the U.S. Army. Also pictured are board president Ron Counter and board vice president Judy Conlin.
Jamie Taylor/River News

School board secretary Mary Peterson administers the oath of office to Merlin Van Buren Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 in the tiered classroom at Rhinelander High School. Van Buren was appointed to the board after receiving votes from a majority of the eight members. He will fill Ben Roskoskey’s seat while Roskoskey is deployed with the U.S. Army. Also pictured are board president Ron Counter and board vice president Judy Conlin.
11/21/2019 7:30:00 AM
Van Buren appointed to fill temporary vacancy on school board

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter

The School District of Rhinelander Board of Education held a special vote Monday evening to temporarily fill the seat of Ben Roskoskey, who has been called to federal service in the military.

The selection process took some time to complete as six people expressed interest in the appointment.

In the end, it took seven votes, with four of the contenders voluntarily dropping out, leaving former board member Merlin Van Buren and newcomer Moria King to be considered on the last two ballots.

In addition to Van Buren and King, another former member of the board, Rick Barcal, and newcomers Tom Fox, Michael Skubal and Mark Beuning, sought to fill in for Roskoskey while he is deployed. Each was given an opportunity to list their qualifications and explain why they wanted to serve on the board.

Several long-serving members of the board noted this was the largest turnout of people seeking appointment to a board vacancy they could remember.

Fox explained that he teaches business courses at Nicolet College and also works in the college's business solutions department. His duties in the business solutions department involve selling contracts to area companies for the college's business department.

"The contracts I sell are to business and industry, places like the Rhinelander paper mill, Tomahawk paper mill, places like that in northern Wisconsin," Fox said. "In talking to them, I'm able to hear the challenges they're having in finding employees and what they're looking for when they do find employees."

The top four priorities he said the district must address in the near future are hiring a new superintendent, continue to improve the district's school ranking on Internet websites, put more resources into the industrial arts department and moving forward with the Hodag Sports Complex.

Fox was asked if he had served on any boards in the past, and he said he served on the Oneida County Planning Committee and was a shop steward at the street department.

He was also asked if any of his children had attended Rhinelander schools.

"All three of my kids attended Rhinelander High School," Fox said. "That's why I feel it is the perfect time for me to get involved. My two oldest have graduated and the other is graduating very soon."

Skubal said not only is he a graduate of RHS, his family can trace their roots in the area all the way back to the 1890 Census.

"I have worked in the arts all my life and I've always had a second job, which for me was in the schools," Skubal said. "So I worked in schools in St. Paul and Seattle and even Rhinelander. I did drama here and turned it over to Kristin Higgins."

Skubal said that he returned to Rhinelander in 2002 and worked for the Rhinelander Daily News as a reporter and columnist before switching to teaching English at Nicolet College.

"My wife and I ran the logging museum for six years," Skubal said. "My wife and I started a non-profit called Old Rhinelander."

When he learned that a temporarily fill-in on the board was needed, "I figured I'd put my name in in case nobody else did."

Skubal was asked if there was something he feels he could help the district with?

"I'm a pretty quick study," he replied. "And I really kept track of the community. I live here. I'm from here, my family goes back 125 years, so it's important to me, all of this is. I don't know if I can do any good, but I'm willing to try."

Barcal, who previously served a total of seven years on the board, cited his experience as a reason he should be selected.

"My first opportunity to interface with the school board goes back to when Dave Heck started the strategic planning committee, I was one of the leaders of the communications portion of that," Barcal said.

Shortly thereafter, he ran for school board, but lost to Heck, who later had to drop off the board due to the constraints of his business.

"I put my name in and was the successful nominee for that position," Barcal said. "The first was a three-year term, the second I ran for office and was elected. The last part was when I took Chuck Fitzgerald's term when he passed away."

Barcal said he served on the negotiation committee and was chair of the strategic planning committee for three years.

"When I saw this opportunity arise in the paper, I wasn't sure if anyone would run," Barcal said. "Some times in the past, there's been mixed emotions for participation. I saw this as an opportunity particularly with the interest of replacing the key position of superintendent."

Barcal said he is retiring from his job in sales at the end of 2019.

David Holperin asked Barcal about the five-year strategic plan the district approved when he was first elected to the board seven years ago.

"When Dave Heck put this group of people together, part of the questions and answers the board was asked was what's the five-year plan, what's the 10-year plan?" Barcal said. "Unfortunately, it was looking up at the ceiling tiles because there wasn't a long-term plan. So that was the initial plan that had a finite start date, and there was a sunset date associated with it."

Beuning was the next to make his pitch, saying that public schools are "the most important contributions our community can make to future generations" and that "the importance of public schools cannot be overstated." He said he feels he could help serve the cause of sustaining Rhnelander's public schools.

"High performing public schools provide more than just education to its community," Beuning said. "They provide a sense of pride to adults and children alike, they can pull a community together, they can help attract top talent and new businesses to the area and overall help sustain and hopefully grow our community in a time when populations are shifting to a more urban environment."

He also cited the leadership skills he learned while serving six years on active duty in the U.S. Army, serving as assistant facilities manager at the Tomah V.A. Hospital for 2 1/2 years and working as the engineering program manager at the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest for the last four years.

"Through my work experiences, I have directly and indirectly supervised up to 65 employees, and I am comfortable working with and understanding labor issues," Beuning said. "I've experienced managing multi-million dollar budgets and I'm comfortable reviewing financial records."

He also said that he understands construction processes and methods and facility planning.

"I understand that public education is a complex environment, and it takes a lot of effort to understand and contribute to it in a meaningful manner to sustain and improve our school system," Beuning said. "I'm prepared to take responsibility and contribute the necessary time involved."

He said he has three children who are currently or soon will be attending Rhinelander schools and he would like to do what he can to make the schools the best they can be.

Beuning was asked if he has any experience serving on a board or commission. He replied that he was on the board of trustees of the church he attended while living in Tomah.

"That's the only board I've served on outside of my working environment," he admitted, adding he worked on several committees while at the Tomah V.A. Hospital.

When asked if any qualified electors would speak on Beuning's behalf, Van Buren said that he serves on a couple committees at the church they attend in Rhinelander and gave him a glowing recommendation.

King, who is involved with the RHS swim team and club, has been a member of several local organizations and is currently going through the first class of the Future Rhinelander Academy started by mayor Chris Frederickson and city administrator Daniel Guild. King said she feels that she has made a positive impact on the organizations she has worked with and helped them grow and become more successful.

"All students deserve to have access to resources and instructors to help them learn and feel comfortable and enabled," King said. "(I can do that) by helping craft policies and directions toward our administrative staff, to manage the district to high standards, to develop rigorous curriculum to support our instructors and to hire high quality teachers and staff."

She said listening to all stakeholders involved with education, teachers, staff, students, parents and administrators would be a way to help ensure the district accomplishes its goals.

"I would do my homework, earn about the challenges that SDR faces," King said.

When board president Ron Counter asked if their were any qualified district electors who wished to speak on King's behalf, Eileen Daniel, another member of the Future Rhinelander Academy, spoke up.

"I've known Moria for about 12 years. What are you looking for in a school board member? Are you looking for someone who can work collaboratively and effectively with others who may or may not share their point of view?" Daniel said. "Are you looking for someone who can listen, really listen to students, administration, other board members and the community at large? Someone who truly wants to serve their community and not themselves by being a part of the board? Someone continually striving to learn and educate themselves? Someone who has a concern for all the youth in the community, not a subset of students? Someone with a heart for Rhinelander? If those are the qualities you are looking for, then Moria King ticks all those boxes."

Van Buren said he is familiar with most of the board, since his six- year tenure on the board ended just a couple of years ago.

"When I was on the board the last time, we went through the hiring process and hired superintendent Jacobi," Van Buren said. "Which, in hindsight, looks like we got it right. The most important task this board has is to hire a new superintendent, and it is essential that we get it right again."

He said he would love to be involved in the hiring process again and developing the next five-year strategic plan for the district.

"I have no axe to grind," Van Buren said. "My goal has been, and always will be, to make sure that every one of our students gets the best education possible."

After explaining that the eight members had to vote for just one person on a signed ballot, and that five votes would be needed to secure the seat, the board cast its first ballot.

Four of the candidates received votes, but none received five. After giving the six another chance to again state their case, another vote was taken, which again led to four people splitting the vote.

After another round of questions from the board, another vote was taken, with another four-way split. After the ballots were tallied, Skubal announced he was withdrawing his name from consideration. On the fourth try, Van Buren, received three votes, Barcal and King received two each and Fox received one vote. At that point Barcal withdrew his name from consideration and endorsed Van Buren.

On the fifth vote, Van Buren received five votes, King received three and Fox received one. Fox then withdrew his name from consideration. On the sixth vote, the two remaining candidates each received four votes. On the seventh ballot, Van Buren received the five votes needed.

Before Van Buren was sworn in, Counter recommended that all six candidates consider taking out papers to declare their candidacy for the April election when three seats will be contested.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at

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