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Assistant to EC superintendent retiring after more than 30 years

Patti Iverson didn’t teach math, but the numbers she compiled in 33 years as administrative assistant to Eau Claire schools superintendents are impressive.

By Iverson’s calculations, she’s attended more than 800 school board meetings, and served more than 40 school board members, five superintendents and three interim superintendents since she assumed the role in 1987. Iverson is one of two women to hold the position in the last 72 years.

Asked why she stayed in the position — a job that Iverson says has proven extremely stressful and challenging at times, but mostly rewarding — for so long, Iverson chuckled and shrugged her shoulders.

“It might sound crazy, but when I went to CVTC and got my degree,” Iverson said simply, pausing for a moment, “it was like my dream job, being in this position.”

But it’s the end of an era — Iverson, 57, this week announced her retirement from the district effective July 5.

Eau Claire schools Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said the district will be losing a great deal of institutional knowledge and history when Iverson leaves her post.

“Patti, in being the superintendents’ secretary over 32 years, has established her office as ‘mission control’ for the administrative group,” Hardebeck said. “And, on a personal note, we will all miss her smiling face and upbeat approach. She is a treasure.”

School board member Joe Luginbill said he’s known Iverson since he joined the school board as a student representative eight years ago. In that time, Luginbill said he has learned much from Iverson and has found she treats everyone with respect and kindness.

“Patti is one of the hardest working, most tirelessly positive and compassionate people I will ever have the honor of working with. Her understanding of our district and its institutional history is unmatched, as is her commitment to the students and teachers we serve,” Luginbill said.

“I am so happy for her as she retires and enters this new chapter of her life. We will be replacing her position, but we won’t be able to replace Patti.”

‘One of the best hires’

Iverson got her start in the district in 1986 as an administrative assistant to the director of pupil services.

After graduating from Chippewa Valley Technical College with a degree in stenography — that degree is no longer offered, Iverson noted with a laugh — she first worked for an Eau Claire bridge contractor. But being raised in an “education family” in Merrillan, Iverson always wanted to work with a school district.

“My brother’s a superintendent, my sister’s a teacher, my dad is a teacher,” Iverson said. “My family is very much educators.”

When Leatrice Mathison, the previous administrative assistant to the superintendent, decided to leave her position after 19 years for a job in the district’s personnel office, Iverson jumped at the chance.

Though she was young and still relatively new to the district, Iverson was hired to fill her spot. Former Eau Claire schools Superintendent Marvin Lansing said he remembers being impressed by her ability to write in shorthand, and they expanded her role to include secretary of the school board.

To say the least, they weren’t disappointed with the hire, Lansing said.

“She’s one of the best hires the district ever made — she’s been outstanding,” Lansing said. “I have the highest regard for Patti and the work she’s done as my secretary and the work she’s done in the superintendent’s office all these years. She’s a gem; she really is.”

After Lansing’s retirement in 1990, Iverson went on to serve four more superintendents — Lee Hansen, Bill Klaus, Ron Heilmann and Hardebeck, respectively — plus three interim superintendents.

Iverson said she’s kept in contact with all the superintendents she’s served over the years, having developed close relationships with all of them.

“When you work with somebody that closely under a lot of high-stress situations, you really have to trust in each other,” Iverson said. “Every time I had to say goodbye to one of them, it was really hard because they had become a part of my life and they were always very supportive.”

Overall, working with the community is one of the best aspects of her job, noting her biggest career highlights were getting several referendums passed and establishing the district’s strategic plan.

A role with challenges

But the job definitely has its challenges, Iverson said.

“No two days are ever the same,” she said. “There’s always lots of balls to juggle, and so it was exciting and fun and certainly challenging at times. But one of the things I tried to do every day is come in with the attitude that today’s going to be a good day and treat people with kindness — even when I’m getting blasted on the phone.”

In all her years fielding calls for the superintendent, Iverson said she’s had some “really tough conversations” with people ranging from angry parents to local and sometimes national journalists.

For example, the district garnered national media attention in 1992 when a group of school officials changed the results of Memorial High School’s homecoming queen election by burning the ballots so that a pregnant girl would not be crowned.

“You can never quite be prepared whenever you get calls from the national media,” Iverson said. “But I felt I always had the district’s best interest at heart and felt I was a good ambassador.”

Through it all, Iverson said she aims to listen carefully and stay calm. If she feels herself slipping, all she has to do is glance over at the smiley face sticker she has posted near her phone.

“It’s really cool to see how their attitude would change just by being kind,” Iverson said.

The role has changed over the years — in part due to technology, Iverson said, adding she recently found the old dictaphone she used when taking notes at board meetings. Iverson said she’s also gotten more involved with public information over the years, including writing press releases and running the communication when the district closes due to weather.

Those days, Iverson said, begin with a call from Hardebeck around 4:45 or 5 a.m. to let her know the school is closing.

“And that initiates 45 minutes of sweating and shaking,” Iverson admitted, chuckling. “I’ve done it a thousand times, but you have so little time to get out information.”

Iverson records a message announcing the closing that is sent to families’ phones across the district — some 24,000 phones — in addition to posting on the website and social media.

Approaching her retirement, Iverson is looking forward to dedicating more time to being a grandma, mom and daughter to her family again.

“I’m really looking forward to giving more time to my family because they’ve always been so great and supportive,” Iverson said. “I’m looking forward to this next chapter of my life.”

Still, it’s bittersweet to leave, Iverson said.

“When you’re living through challenges, it’s hard. Really hard,” Iverson said. “But all those things brought me to where I am today, and that’s what I feel best about. Even though there were some really hard times during my 33 years in this job, it made me a better person.”

DNR rejects antlerless-only deer hunt in Buffalo County

Jarrad Fluekiger is relieved that a proposal for an antlerless-only deer hunting season in Buffalo County in November has been shot down by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Fluekiger, who owns Rutting Ridge Outfitters in Alma, said the proposal would have severely damaged tourism, as people come from all over to hunt trophy bucks in the county.

“I’m excited, but it’s not done yet. They (DNR officials) decided for the best interests of the county. It could have been a lot of revenue that would have been lost,” Fluekiger said.

The Buffalo County Deer Advisory Council had recommended the antlerless-only hunt in April.

Mark Noll, chairman of the Buffalo CDAC, said he had doubts the plan would pass on a state level.

“We voted more to give a message than anything else,” Noll said. “This is a complex problem. Not one person on our committee thought it would work, but we voted for it to send a message.”

Noll said counties need more tools for managing herd sizes. Since the CDAC proposed the antlerless only season, he’s heard several people suggest the state should bring back an earn-a-buck system, as that would be preferable to an antlerless-only season. Noll said they should look at some other creative ideas; he noted that an area in Kansas has a quota season, where bucks cannot be taken until a certain number of does are shot first.

“We’re not bringing the deer totals down at all,” Noll said. “They aren’t spread out evenly (across the county.)”

Noll said he would like to see the deer numbers come down in an effort to reduce the possibility of chronic wasting disease affecting the area herd.

“Once CWD gets in here, the bucks won’t get old anymore,” Noll said. “We’re just sounding the alarm in Buffalo County.”

Fluekiger said Buffalo County is nationally known for its large trophy bucks. He attributes some of that to the natural minerals in the ground that help the animals grow, as well as the fact that most of the hunting areas in the county are on private property. The county also has a lot of natural bluffs, where “the winds are always rolling and circulating. The bucks have used that to their advantage to get around the landscape.”

Dan Rolbiecki, a taxidermist at Ridge Top Taxidermy in Fountain City, was confident the antlerless season wouldn’t pass.

“These guys were using it as a scare tactic,” Rolbiecki said.

Rolbiecki said the antlerless-only season wasn’t needed.

“Our buck numbers are down, our car-kills are down, and they say we are running over with deer,” Rolbiecki said. “It’s a relief we aren’t going to have an antlerless hunt, but it doesn’t solve all our problems.”

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board will vote on the DNR’s hunting season recommendations May 22. Greg Kazmierski, the board’s vice chairman, said he was pleased the DNR isn’t bringing the antlerless season forward.

“I think it was the right call. The metrics in that county doesn’t support taking that type of drastic action,” Kazmierski said. “Population levels have been staying stable, or even going down. They don’t have a great number of deer per square mile. Deer are managed to social levels. If farmers are experiencing too much damage, or there were too many road kills, but those social pressures weren’t there.”

Kazmierski disagrees with Noll, saying the local CDACs still have other options for controlling deer herd sizes.

“There are more tools with the deer management plan than there ever was,” Kazmierski said.

Wisconsin Republicans vote to kill Medicaid expansion

MADISON — Wisconsin Republicans voted Thursday to scrap expanding Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana, raising the minimum wage and a host of other priorities of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers as they begin dismantling his two-year budget plan.

Evers and Democrats remain defiant, saying the public is on their side in support of expanding Medicaid. They ran on their promise to expand the health program for the poor and believe their victories in 2018 were due in large part to that position. Polls also show broad public support.

“Medicaid is being removed in this first motion because you’re losing,” said Democratic Rep. Evan Goyke. “This is a popular item supported by the people of the state of Wisconsin and every single day it’s getting more popular.”

But Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t bending from their long-held opposition, which they believe is popular with their base of supporters, even as some GOP lawmakers have publicly talked about trying to find a compromise. State Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chair of the budget committee, said Thursday that he wouldn’t compromise on taking something less than full expansion, rejecting that as “Medicaid light.”

Democratic members of the committee said they were open to reaching a deal, but Republicans were not offering any alternatives.

“No is not a compromise,” Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said. “No is not a place to start. No is irresponsible, reckless. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who just says ‘no.’”

In response to Democratic criticism that rejecting expansion hurt poor people, Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany said: “I do not have a moral problem.”

“We have been responsible to the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin and we have done the right thing,” he said.

The GOP-controlled budget committee voted along party lines to kill Medicaid expansion and a host of Evers’ other priorities with one of its first votes Thursday. In the coming weeks, the Joint Finance Committee will be voting to reshape the $83 billion Evers budget into something Republicans can vote for later this summer.

Evers has vowed to “fight like hell” to save Medicaid expansion. He’s released data showing how each of the state’s 72 counties would benefit from accepting $324 million in federal money for expansion, which would leverage $1.6 billion in more spending on health care across the state. Of that, $836 million comes at no cost to the state.

That includes increasing reimbursement rates for doctors and other health care providers, raising county aid for crisis mental health and substance abuse services, and spending more on women’s health care initiatives, dental health care and fighting lead poisoning.

To date, Wisconsin has missed out on $1.1 billion in federal money for Medicaid expansion. It is one of only 13 states that have not accepted Medicaid expansion money and the only one that did a partial expansion without taking the money.

“With rising demand for long-term care and behavioral health services, it is unacceptable to leave resources on the table and have the state pay more money for less coverage,” Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, said in a statement.

The Republican moves will create a $1.4 billion hole in the budget, roughly the amount Evers proposed spending on K-12 education. Republicans have already said they weren’t on board with spending that much on schools. Republicans will have to come up with other cuts, or tax increases, to make up the difference.

Under the Evers plan, about 82,000 people are expected to become Medicaid-eligible as the income cutoff increases from 100% of poverty to 138%. That would raise eligible annual income from $25,750 for a family of four to $35,535. For a single person, it would increase from $12,490 to $17,236.

Of those 82,000, about half are buying heavily subsidized plans through the marketplace now. Part of the Republican argument against expansion is it doesn’t make sense to put people on Medicaid when they can buy affordable plans through the exchange. Republicans also say the move would disrupt the private insurance market, and that they’re concerned the federal government will decrease its reimbursement to the state, leaving taxpayers to foot a larger bill for more people on Medicaid.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which supports Medicaid expansion, said removing the plan from the budget now doesn’t mean the fight is over.

“Until the governor signs his budget, it’s not final,” Kraig said. “It’s going to be a long debate and there’s still plenty of time for the public to be heard.”