Zunker Votes to Start School Virtually. Tiffany Threatens Funds if Schools Don't Reopen.
Republican Congressman Tom Tiffany and Democrat Tricia Zunker will face each other again in the November election.

The two candidates square off again for 7th Congressional District seat in November. 

The Wausau School District joins a growing list across the state starting the school year in a virtual setting due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19.

“People talk about risk, and how there are lots of factors to balance out in making this decision,” said Tricia Zunker, the district’s school board president. “At least we know here in Wausau that no teachers, no staff members, and no students will die of COVID-19 because they will not be in the building.” 

The Wausau School District includes 40,000 students, ranking it 13th among the state’s 421 school districts for student population, Zunker said. Since the start of the pandemic, Marathon County has reported 177 COVID-19 cases and its current activity level is ranked as high, according to the state Department of Health Services. 

“If we don’t get this right we could have an explosion of COVID-19 in Wausau and Marathon County,” Zunker told UpNorthNews Tuesday. “Basically with the state and county failing to address this pandemic by passing mask ordinances it has fallen on local school officials to manage a global pandemic.”

The decision by the school board Monday offers a stark contrast between Zunker, who is also a candidate for Congress, and her opponent, Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua, who will face-off again in the November election for a full two-year term in the state’s 7th Congressional District.

Tiffany defeated Zunker with 57 percent of the vote in the May 12 special election to fill the seat vacated by Sean Duffy. 

While Zunker joined other Wausau School Board members in the decision to begin the school year virtually, Tiffany had previously introduced the “Reopen Our Schools” Act during his first weeks in Washington, D.C. 

The bill would have cut off federal funding for schools that did not reopen to in-person instruction by Sept. 8. The bill failed to gain traction despite its position echoing that of President Donald Trump’s. 

“These open-ended school shutdowns have set students back, made it harder for teachers to teach, and pushed parents to the breaking point,” Tiffany said in a statement when the bill was introduced in June. “It’s time to reopen America and get back to school.”

Tiffany’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday. 

Zunker said she finds Tiffany’s attempt to withhold federal funding “infuriating.” She explained that school districts only receive 10 percent of their funds from the federal government. That money is earmarked for services for students with disabilities and for programs that benefit low-income students, such as free-lunch programs. 

“His first move in Congress is to target our most vulnerable students. It’s ridiculous,” Zunker said. “Democrats control the House (of Representatives). There is no way his bill would have passed. It was all political grandstanding. If I was there, I would have been doing something to expand broadband access. That’s what I would be focused on.”