School Board takes cautious approach to policy that would govern actions on Warrior nickname, colors
On the surface, a proposed policy governing branding rights in the Northern Ozaukee School District seemed innocent enough.
However, a history of contention over Ozaukee High School’s use of the warrior mascot spurred considerable debate during last month’s School Board meeting.
The board’s Policy Committee introduced the proposed policy, which essentially affirms that branding decisions remain under the authority of the board.
“Proposed changes to the school district’s branding, including, but not limited to, school/district mascots, school/district colors and school/district logos are subject to Board of Education approval,” the policy states.
“Requests for such changes should be directed to the superintendent of schools for discussion and action by the Board of Education.”
Committee chairman Steve Burmesch said members wanted the policy “to be short and to the point.”
“I like the simplicity,” Board President Paul Krause said.
Brevity, however, was not what concerned board member Tom Hoffmann.
As a longtime member of the board, Hoffmann noted that past attempts to tinker with Ozaukee High School’s warrior mascot set off a fire storm in the community.
To ensure that any change in the nickname of the high school’s athletic teams is given serious thought, Hoffmann asked that the policy require a supermajority vote of the board.
Supermajority votes of elected bodies are typically limited to significant financial issues, such as borrowing.
In the case of the eight-member School Board, a supermajority would mean six votes would be required — rather than a simple majority of the members present at the time a vote is being taken. With a quorum of five of eight members present, a simple majority would require only three votes.
That spurred Hoffmann’s call for a supermajority vote.
“That is what I want to see, based on what’s been done in the past,” Hoffmann said. “This has been a hot topic in the past.”
He said when the mascot issue was debated at length in 1995, “there was a lot of push back from the community” when the idea of dropping the warrior name was contemplated. Only Hoffmann and current board member Francis Kleckner were on the board at that time.
Although the mascot was retained, Hoffmann said the vote could have gone the other way if only a simple majority of the board was required and the meeting had a five-member quorum.
“To ignore the past is to repeat it,” he warned.
Steve Burmesch said the request for a supermajority seemed out of character with how the board does business.
“Since I’ve been on the board, we haven’t required any supermajority votes. In your mind this may be the most important topic the board will address, but I don’t see it as necessary,” he said.
Krause echoed that stance.
“The board makes an awful lot of decisions, like the tax levy, with a simple majority vote. I am not sure this issue merits being elevated,” he said.
The branding question was returned to the Policy Committee to deliberate over whether more than a majority vote on related decisions is desired.
There has been no recent push to eliminate the high school’s warrior mascot. The name and Native American image were recently incorporated into the newly installed gym floor, which is expected to be in use for decades.