- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A candidate for Wisconsin’s top education job said Monday he’s unsure he did anything wrong when he sent a campaign-related email last year using his public school district account.

Wisconsin law forbids the use of government resources for political campaigns, but state superintendent candidate Lowell Holtz said it never occurred to him that he was violating any rules when he sent an email soliciting campaign advice and touting his support among Republicans.

“It never crossed my mind that I was going to be violating anything, and I’m still not sure if I violated anything,” Holtz said of the email, which was provided to The Associated Press Friday by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. The group obtained it through an open records request.

“But if I did, I really am the kind of person that is willing to name it, own it, and fix it. And I obviously fixed it because I’m not working at the school district because I wanted to keep that separation so I could run 100 percent of the time and not worry about that.”

It’s not immediately clear if the matter is currently being investigated.

Holtz retired last year as superintendent of the Whitnall School District.

He made the comments about the mail after the first head-to-head forum with incumbent state Superintendent Tony Evers since both advanced from last week’s primary election.

Evers said Holtz should be investigated and held accountable if he broke the law, noting that he, too, came under scrutiny in 2009 for sending a campaign email during work hours. Evers said he “learned a lesson” with the $250 fine he paid.

The winner of the April 4 contest for superintendent will oversee the state Department of Public Instruction, which runs K-12 education policy, curriculum and programs, and administers state and federal aid for all 424 public school districts. The department also works with private schools in the choice program and runs teacher licensing and regulation.

While the race is officially nonpartisan, Evers has the backing of Democrats, teachers unions, and public schools advocates. Holtz has the support of two dozen current and former Republican lawmakers and a host of conservative groups.

During the forum Monday the candidates offered contrasting philosophies that highlight what’s at stake in the election.

Holtz said he welcomes additional funding for private school vouchers, arguing it would improve competition and choice in the education system. But Evers said he worries more funding for vouchers would come at the expense of public schools.

The candidates also disagreed on a budget proposal from Republican Gov. Scott Walker that would tie $500 million in per-pupil funding for schools to a state law that calls on teachers to pay 12 percent toward the cost of their health insurance. That law, Act 10, took away nearly all collective bargaining rights of state workers.

Evers called the budget proposal “a threat” he hopes disappears, but Holtz agrees with the idea, saying “we can’t have totally independent districts that don’t follow the law.”

The race for state superintendent has been a feisty one so far. In addition to the dispute over email, Holtz was accused of trying to bribe another candidate to drop out of the race before the primary election - a charge Holtz has denied.

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