Category Archives: Education

West Bend Referendum Fight is Not Over

The citizens of West Bend received a reprieve last night when the West Bend School Board decided to suspend the referendum effort. “Suspend” is the key word. At the meeting, School Board President Joel Ongert made it clear that he wants to put a referendum on the April or possibly next November ballot. It is worth noting that those elections also historically have much lower turnout. That makes it easier for the referendum to pass (if you’d like me to explain this, I will, but I think y’all get it).

Ongert also made a comment that he thought that the needs at the high schools warranted $60 million! In the current referendum proposal, they are asking for $31 million for the high schools. Ongert wants to spend so. much. more.

Over the next few months as the citizens of the West Bend School District and their School Board consider the prospect of a referendum, we should keep some hard numbers in mind.

$215 million. That is how much the taxpayers will be obligated to pay back if the referendum being considered is approved. The district already owes about $130 million due to the passage of previous referenda. If the referendum passes, it will bring that total to about $215 million in owed interest and principal.

$2,125. There are about 40,000 adults who live in the West Bend School District. If the $50 million referendum being considered passes, the share for each adult is $2,125. Each adult’s share of the total $215 million debt would be about $5,200.

$5.3 million. The taxpayers currently spend about $5.3 million per year on paying down debt. That is $5.3 million that is not spent on educating kids. It is being spent on paying off buildings. That number will increase substantially if the referendum being considered passes.

20. Under the proposal outlined by Baird for the School Board, it will take 20 years to pay off new referendum debt. On the payment schedule presented by Baird at the August 13th school board meeting, the taxpayers will paying only the interest payments for the first nine years. The taxpayers will not pay down a single dollar of the principal until the tenth year.

2.7%. Despite having the authority under Act 10 to control labor expenses, employees of the West Bend School District can still get a family health insurance plan for as little as $49 per month. That is 2.7% of the total cost of the plan. The taxpayers pay the remaining 97.3%.

307. Using the Kindergarten Trend Projection Model, which extrapolates kindergarten enrollment trends to forecast future enrollment, there will be 307 kids in Jackson Elementary in nine years. That compares to the 371 kids who were in the school last year and the 535 kids in the same building at the most recent peak in 2010. That is a 43% decline in student population in the Jackson Elementary building, but also includes the reconfiguration of grades that occurred in 2014.

5,289. Using the same projection model, the entire West Bend School District will have an enrollment of 5,289 kids in the 2027-2028 school year. That compares to the 6,634 kids in the last school year and 6,843 kids in the district in the most recent peak year of 2009. That is a 20% decline in enrollment over the next decade.

Different project models give slightly different numbers, but the declining enrollment matches the trend that the school district has seen in recent years. Due to generally lower birth rates, open enrollment, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, and demographic shifts, the West Bend School District is seeing the same declining enrollment as many other Wisconsin school districts.

21%. In the most recent open enrollment figures, 21% of the kids who open enrolled out of the West Bend School District left to attend a virtual school. While the West Bend School Board wants to invest in buildings, families are seeking out modern ways to get a quality education.

20. The world of education is not immune from the societal and technological transformations taking place around us. Educational delivery methods now include online and hybrid learning, collaboration with industries, augmented reality, and so much more. The West Bend School Board is asking to spend $85 million on a 20th century education model.

Zero. If the voters approve allowing the West Bend School Board to dump tens of millions of dollars into buildings, they can expect zero improvements in educational outcomes. It has been proven time and time again that once the basic safety and space needs for school buildings are met, spending more on buildings does not result in better education.

For recent evidence, look at the test scores and graduation rates in the West Bend School District since the other school building referendums were passed. According to DPI data, all of the results are flat or declining. The new Badger and renovated Silverbrook schools look fantastic, but they did not make any kids smarter. That is why the school board has wisely not even attempted to claim that it will improve education in the district.

There are a lot of things that the West Bend School Board could do to try to improve education for the children under their care. Dumping money into fancy buildings is not one of them.

West Bend School Board Suspends Referendum Effort

Huzzah, huzzah… the West Bend School Board came to its senses and decided against putting a referendum on the ballot in November. They haven’t abandoned the effort yet, but at least they are pumping the brakes for a bit. The Washington County Insider has video of the discussion and details from the meeting. Here are some highlights:

“We have until next Tuesday to tell the county clerk what our intentions are,” he said.  “Are we going to a referendum in November and potential questions and how do we want it to look.” Board member Chris Zwygart spoke first and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.  “I’m not sure we’re ready to move forward. The board has a number questions,” said Zwygart.

Board member Ken Schmidt said he had doubts. “I question need and want,” said Schmidt.  “Those are two questions I have. Some things I see as needs with safety and that is a big need but here again I really have some questions about right sizing. Those are the two biggies.”

Schmidt also expressed concern about the cost to taxpayers in the future. “There’s no guarantee with a phenomenal economy. I’m a realist and there are cycles. I’ve seen several in my lifetime but I have sincere reservations.”

[…]

A couple of leaders from the West Bend School Board spoke after the meeting.

After the meeting Zwygart said as a person, “We have unanswered questions and limited time between now and the time of the election (Nov. 6, 2018) that just does not set us up for success as it relates to transparency with the voters and so I’m pleased with the decision.”

In particular, hats off to board members Chris Zwygart and Ken Schmidt for being good stewards of the taxpayers’ interests. Board members Joel Ongert and Tiffany Larson still seem hell bent on dumping tens of millions of dollars on buildings. This isn’t over. The debate continues…

“I would have to vote no and send the administration back to the drawing board.”

The West Bend School Board will vote today to put an $85 million referendum on the ballot. Here’s an interesting letter to the editor that originally ran on the Washington County Insider:

August 20, 2018 – West Bend, WI – I believe it is important to include the interest cost on the referendum so people know for a fact, what they will be paying.

I was on the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee and am very disappointed in the entire process of the decision to go to referendum.

The entire process has once again been less than honest. While we are following a 25 year plan, in what world of business do we have a 25 year plan without the plan on how to pay for it.

If I were to vote today, I would have to vote no and send the administration back to the drawing board.

There are way too many issues to address before moving forward on a building plan.

Being on the CFAC committee I had a first hand look at the issues they say they are trying to correct.  I could see many of them stemmed from very poor planning and execution to begin with.

These are things that have to be addressed so we don’t spend $85 plus million today and end up with the same issue in the future.

Dan Krier

West Bend

 

West Bend School Board Calls Special Meeting to Put Referendum on Ballot

As usual with this board… public notice posted on the business day before the meeting. Apparently, they only anticipate 3 minutes of public participation.

NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

Education Service Center

735 S. Main Street, West Bend

Board Room

August 20, 2018 6:00 pm

NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC AUDIENCE: A) At the regular and special meetings of the Board of Education, the President of the Board will honor requests of the public to speak to any item prior to the President’s closing of public participation. Persons requesting to be heard shall register their written requests to the Board President and identify themselves by name and address. Based on the number of requests, the President may set a time limit for all persons to speak. Persons wishing to speak a second time must register a second time. A person may speak a maximum of three (3) minutes; however, the President may limit the time, depending on the number of persons requesting to address the Board. B) Due to time constraints, Agenda items may be taken out of order. C) The time schedule is used as a guide. Times are approximate.

AGENDA

6:00      1. Call to Order 2. Pledge of Allegiance

6:01      3. Approval of Agenda

6:02      4. Public Participation 5. Action Items

6:05      a. Possible referendum election November 6, 2018

6:15      b. Potential referendum question(s) 6. Adjourn

Evers Threatens Education for Thousands of Choice Students

True.

Yesterday, State Superintendent Tony Evers won the Democratic Primary for governor. While Evers may come off much like a friendly grandfather—affable and harmless—it is important to recognize that he represents a threat to school choice in Wisconsin, even more so than previous Democrat gubernatorial candidates. Evers has a long record of opposing education reform that needs to be highlighted.

His stance on school choice may kick thousands of low-income Milwaukee students out of their schools

Evers has threatened to end Wisconsin’s school choice programs unless a number of untenable reforms are implemented. Without such changes, enrollment in the programs would be frozen. Voucher schools, particularly in Milwaukee, are reliant on a continual stream of students to remain viable. Freezing enrollment would effectively mean these schools would shut down and more than 27,000 low-income families in Milwaukee would be left with no option but to return to the low-performing Milwaukee Public Schools.

Investing in a 20th Century Education Model

Here’s an interesting bit of data from a report about Open Enrollment that was presented to the West Bend School Board last night. According to that report, 452 kids left the district through open enrollment compared to 193 who entered the district. That’s a net outflow of 259 kids. Of those who left, 19%, or about 85 kids, left to go to a virtual school. And of all of those who left, the top two reasons given for leaving were convenience or they moved. In other words, the physical location of the school buildings didn’t work for the family.

In the 21st century, why does the School Board want to invest tens of millions of dollars in physical buildings instead of investing in modern education delivery models?

UPDATE: I may be reading the colors on their pie chart wrong. It looks like it might actually be 21% left for virtual schools. Hopefully we can see the raw data at some point.

West Bend School Board Meets About Referendum Tonight

The West Bend School Board will be meeting tonight. Part of the agenda is to plan the referendum they plan to put on the ballot in November. If you’d like to attend, here are the details.

Education Service Center

735 S. Main Street, West Bend

August 13, 2018

6:30 pm

They are also taking a look at the preliminary budget for next year. That should be interesting.

Cedarburg Moves Forward With Referendum After Biased Survey

As I’ve been saying for months, the big spenders have found a formula for passing a school referendum in conservative communities. They followed it in Kewaskum and are following it to the letter in Cedarburg and West Bend. Part of that formula is hiring School Perceptions to conduct a propaganda campaign in the form of a survey. MacIver got a peek behind the curtain in Cedarburg.

MADISON – Cedarburg School District officials are moving forward with a referendum asking voters to approve $59.8 million in new spending. However, local critics say the decision to go ahead with the referendum was based on the results of a biased survey that was designed to show overwhelming community support whether it existed or not.

Documents obtained by the MacIver News Service through an open records request show at least one Cedarburg School Boardmember and several community members were concerned the community survey the district commissioned to gauge interest in the huge spending spree could be more of a marketing tool to justify the costly proposal.

The district has been working with controversial consultant School Perceptions on the community survey. The Slinger-based firm has assisted hundreds of school districts seeking to pass large spending requests, including many in southeastern Wisconsin. 

Radio host Mark Belling has chronicled School Perceptions’ dubious business practices. With the firm’s help, “…school boards and superintendents are using public money to mislead their residents and pretending to conduct honest surveys,” Belling wrote in a Waukesha Freeman column earlier this year.

The survey, sent out in May, found that 60 percent of respondents would advise the Cedarburg School Board to pursue the referendum.

However, not all respondents were treated equally, according to the behind the scenes conversations. Staff and parents of CSD students were emailed links to an online version of the survey, while most local residents got a paper version in the mail. This was not done by accident.

“The plan all along was to email the survey to parents, teachers, and staff. All residents within our school district boundaries have or will receive the survey via the mail. Additional surveys are available for families if needed,” Bugnacki wrote on May 9 in an email responding to Cedarburg School Board member David Krier.

Krier was critical of this methodology. “We should consider whether this might skew the survey results,” he wrote.

On top of that, there was a lack of consistency on how the paper surveys were mailed out. Cedarburg town and city residents got their surveys through the US Postal Service’s bulk mail program. Those who lived out of town, but still in the district, however received a 6-by-9 inch envelope with the survey folded in half, addressed to “resident,” according to the Cedarburg News Graphic newspaper.

“(We are) realizing now that some did not receive or perceived this a junk mailer and threw it away,” Cedarburg School district communications coordinator Karen Egelhoff told the News Graphic.

Increase in West Bend Teacher Salaries Since Act 10

Again to refute the claim made by a West Bend teacher in the newspaper that, “This would be the second double-digit teacher pay cut in eight years”… here’s the average salary data from DPI:

2011wbsalaries

2016wbsalaries

As you can see, the average salaries in the district are way up since the passage of Act 10. And the average experience of the teaching staff has also increased. It also looks like the average cost of fringe benefits have decreased. I’d like to see more data behind that to see if the decrease is due to an actual decrease in costs or just that fewer employees are taking some of the more expensive benefits.

The data does show a dip in the average salary in 2012. That was a year that saw higher teacher retirements in the wake of Act 10. The dip corresponds with a decrease in the average local tenure of the teaching staff. In other words, the departure of old, expensive teachers at the end of their careers were replaced with younger, less expensive teachers. It was not a cut in pay. It was a change in the age demographic of the staff. Since then, the average salary and average local tenure have increased together.

The assertion that West Bend’s teachers have experienced a pay cut is demonstrably false.

But again… merit pay has nothing to do with cutting pay. It has everything to do with rewarding better teachers who can achieve better results for our kids. As a taxpayer, I’m willing to pay more for better results. I am not willing to pay more for fancy buildings. Let’s reward, attract, and retain great teachers with merit pay instead of sinking more money into real estate.

Mayville teacher reprimanded for anti-Trump “art”

This is good to see. Granted, it’s a slap on the wrist, but at least it is something of an acknowledgement that this was inappropriate.

This past June, residents and parents in Mayville, WI were shocked to see a vulgar, profane piece of anti-Trump protest “art” displayed prominently at a MIDDLE SCHOOL art show.   The “art” was created by a HS junior in Mayville in an art class taught by teacher Sarah Heideman.  Heideman thought the poster was super swell, and so she sent it off to the MIDDLE SCHOOL to be displayed.

The adults loved the anti-Trump message so much, they selected it as the “winner” to be sent to an exhibit state wide.

Read the story by Judy Steffes from Washington County Insider here:

VULGAR ANTI TRUMP ART DISPLAY

Here is the poster displayed at the middle school:

anti trump protest art

ONLY after an Open Records Request filed by CRG’s Orville Seymer did the district finally do its job and reprimand the teacher.  She’ll have a reprimand on her permanent record.

Good.  The teacher darn well knew better.  She knew the policy.  She just didn’t care.  And neither did nearly everyone else.  Why?  It has nothing to do with any sort of appreciation for free speech or protest art.  The art itself was pretty standard fare and not terribly creative.  The adults in the school district simply LIKED the message because they DON’T like Trump.

West Bend teachers did get raises

Former West Bend School Board President, Rick Parks, also took issue with Jason Penterman’s letter to the editor in response to my column.

To the editor: While I do understand that Jason Penterman’s recent letter to the editor on behalf of the West Bend Education Association was provoked by Owen Robinson’s column on upcoming school referendums, that doesn’t relieve Jason of the need to be accurate in what he publishes.

The WBEA has presented the implementation of Act 10 as a pay cut to teachers since it was enacted in 2011. That’s just not true. Act 10 simply required school districts to pass on a percent of the cost for health insurance and retirement plans to employees, just like your employers do where you work. Did that reduce take-home pay? Yes. Does it reduce your takehome pay when your employer passes on your portion of these costs to you? Also yes, but most people would not present this as a pay cut.

Jason also misrepresents the merit pay system that was in place for many years in the West Bend School District. When he says “many veteran employees have received no pay increases for six-plus years” he also distorts reality. At the time I left the school board in April 2017, about 94 percent of the teaching staff received pay increases. The 6 percent that did not were on a performance improvement plan. I can’t say how that played out for veteran versus novice teachers, but knowing the range of experience in the district at that time it’s safe to say that almost all veteran teachers were receiving pay increases.

During my time on the school board I regularly pointed out to my board colleagues that Act 10 did make a real impact on real people’s pocketbook. I never discounted that. But after seven years it’s time to get over it and move on. It’s also time to stop distorting the facts.

Rick Parks

West Bend

West Bend Teacher Rejects Merit Pay

A couple of weeks ago the Washington County Daily News published my column regarding the upcoming school referendum in West Bend. In that column, I argued that it is not appropriate for the West Bend School Board to ask for more money because (1) fancy buildings don’t lead to better student outcomes, (2) enrollment is declining, and (3) the School Board has failed to be good steward of the money they already have. As examples of poor stewardship, I pointed out that the School Board overpays for insurance and employees pay far below the average for their share of that benefit. I also argued that the School Board has abandoned Merit Pay for their employees. There was a lot in that column…

Anyway, longtime West Bend School District employee and union stalwart, Jason Penterman, took issue with some of the column in a letter to the editor yesterday. Let’s take a look at his feedback. After a preamble, Penterman gets to the meat of his criticism in the last paragraph. Let’s attempt to unpack it:

On July 24, Owen Robinson wrote he’s against any West Bend School District building referendum until the School Board enacts teacher merit pay and makes the employees pay an additional $7,954 for health insurance.

True, kind of. The $7,954 figure is what employees would pay if the district payed the average rate for insurance and asked employees to pay the average percentage for their share. I don’t think that the district necessarily needs to get to that number, but something more than the $49 a month that some employees pay for a family plan would be appropriate.

This would be the second double-digit teacher pay cut in eight years.

To my knowledge, that is not true. As I recall, shortly after Act 10 was passed, the School Board made some changes in the step system to change how fast employees could get raises, but I don’t believe they ever received an actual pay cut. I could be wrong. Even so, there are many people who have received pay cuts in their careers. It happens. It’s never fun, but it happens. And asking teachers to pay a more reasonable share of their generous benefits is not a pay cut.

The current teacher merit pay system originally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, wasted thousands of school hours on meaningless, multiple choice assessments and turned children into numbers.

That’s the perspective of a teacher who didn’t like merit pay. Generally speaking, when people are held to a higher standard of performance for doing a job, they don’t like it. This is particularly true for people who are not very good at their jobs. Accountability sucks when you are used to having free rein.

The community rejected this.

Really? I don’t recall a community vote on this. A merit pay system was never fully implemented in the district. The previous Superintendent and School Board abandoned the idea with nary a discussion.

Why do that again?

Because holding employees accountable for their performance is how the rest of the world works. The taxpayers of West Bend deserve to know that they are getting good results for their investment. Furthermore, great teachers love merit pay because they can maximize their compensation. An aggressive merit pay system would help attract the best teachers to our district. In the end, would it cost more? Perhaps. If we can get better student outcomes with better employees, I think that’s something taxpayers would be willing to pay for.

With the understanding that unfair pay systems and severe employee pay cuts will damage a company’s ability to attract and retain quality employees and this will damage its product and reputation…

Merit pay does not equal pay cuts. Penterman seems to make that assumption. But the only employees who receive pay cuts under a merit pay system are those who are bad at their jobs. Good employees receive bigger, faster pay raises. In fact, very few merit pay systems actuall cut anyone’s pay. They merely heavily weight pay increases to the better performers.

why would anyone support Robinson’s demand for merit pay and that West Bend School District’s teachers undergo another 10 percent to 15 percent pay cut to get a building referendum passed at the expense of the West Bend, Jackson, Newburg, Polk, Trenton, Barton, and Addison students, parents, taxpayers, businesses and communities?

Where did he pull the 10% to 15% pay cut out of? Who said that? But Penterman seems to be fine with forcing every homeowner to forgo the use of their earned income an pay more taxes for new buildings. For what? Fewer kids in those buildings and the same educational outcomes? The goal of merit pay is to improve the actual education delivered to our children by attracting and rewarding the best educators. I’d rather put more money in the good teachers’ pockets than in the pockets of builders and architects.

 

 

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

Here is my full column that ran yesterday in the Washington County Daily News.

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

At issue is the manufactured facilities “crisis” at Jackson Elementary and the West Bend high schools. While the buildings are both perfectly functional and have decades of use left in them if properly maintained, some folks would like to remodel or replace them. Even though buildings have no impact on whether or not kids get a good education compared to what happens inside those buildings, constructing school buildings is easier than doing the hard work necessary to improve educational outcomes.

To that end, the school board created a Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year that spent months in what proved to be manipulated process designed to tell the school board what it wanted to hear. Then the school board spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an equally fraudulent community survey that was also designed to tell it what it wanted to hear. On the weight of these two sham activities, the school board is now considering a referendum.

The survey results were presented to the school board last week. Of the approximately 40,000 adults in the district, 2,815 surveys were returned, constituting a 7 percent return rate. Of those 2,815 surveys, 93 percent lived in the district and 17 percent were employees of the school district. Even though the survey was disproportionally weighted with district employees and had a small sample, only 53 percent of respondents supported building a new elementary school in Jackson. The school board is interpreting the survey as telling them that the taxpayers would support a $50 million (not including interest) referendum.

There are many reasons that the taxpayers should not support a referendum in the West Bend School District, but let us highlight perhaps the biggest three.

First, despite the claims of builders and architects who make money from school construction, there is no correlation between fancy school buildings and the quality of education that takes place inside them. Once a minimal standard of safety and function are met, trendy reading nooks and naturally lit atriums do not help one child get a better education. If the school board wants to spend an additional $50 million of the taxpayers’ money, they should at least use the money to provide kids with a better education.

Second, enrollment in the West Bend School District is declining and is projected to continue the slide for the foreseeable future. This has almost nothing to do with the school district itself. It is a reflection of demographic trends and the expansion of alternative educational options. Online learning, School Choice, homeschooling, etc., all erode from an already shrinking student population. Why should the taxpayers invest an additional $50 million to build larger buildings for fewer kids?

Third, the school board has demonstrated poor stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources by failing to fully utilize the power given to it by Act 10 to manage the largest expense in the budget — personnel. Immediately after Act 10, previous school boards began down the path of implementing things like merit pay and benefits reform, but all of that progress stopped a couple of years ago.

Just last week, the Wisconsin Department of Administration released detailed description of the health insurance plans for every school district in Wisconsin. The data shows the least expensive family health insurance plan that the West Bend School District provides costs the taxpayers a whopping $21,864 per year. That compares to an average of $20,062 for all Wisconsin school districts and a national average of $18,764. The other plans offered are even more expensive. The West Bend School District is overpaying for health insurance.

Of that premium, a district employee can pay as little as $588 per year, or 2.7 percent, for their share of the premium if they receive a wellness incentive by passing a wellness screening and not smoking. This compares with an average of 11.7 percent for all Wisconsin school districts, 29 percent for state and local government employees across the nation, and 33 percent for private sector employees across the nation. On top of that, the district provides an onsite clinic for employees at no cost to the employees. Such clinics are supposed to lower the cost of health insurance, but the West Bend School District continues to pay well above the average cost for health insurance and asks employees to pay well below the average for their share.

A little quick math shows that if the West Bend School District simply paid the national average for a family health insurance plan ($18,764) and required employees to pay the national average share of the cost for state and local government employees (29 percent), it would save the taxpayers of the district $7,954 per family plan.

To date, the school board has failed to demonstrate sensible fiscal management on behalf of the citizens of the district.

Before the school board asks the taxpayers to sink tens of millions of more dollars into buildings for a district with declining enrollment, they must at least show that they are willing to use the tools available to them to manage the money they already spend.

Declining Enrollment At West Bend School District

Speaking of the enrollment… the Washington County Insider has more detail from the meeting last night. Here are the projections:

-When look at enrollment projections for facilities as district as a whole there are four methods. Baseline, 2 year projection, 5 year projection and the kindergarten-trend projects.

-Look out 10 years on baseline – the district would be down 772 students.

-Five year trend model indicates enrollment will decline as well by 840 odd students

-Two year trend – around 870 decline and kindergarten trend projection and that’s almost 1,350 students.

That’s anything from a 10% to a 20% decline in the next 10 years. That will also mean a decline in state funding since that is based on a per-pupil model. Why would the taxpayers buy new, bigger buildings? It would be like Sears building a new tower despite projections of a long term decline.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online today. I think you can guess what the topic is from the headline, but here’s how it starts:

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

Go pick up a paper to read the whole thing. In the same paper, you’ll read a story on the front page about the declining enrollments in the district. We also get a first glimpse of the new Superintendent at work. It appears that he’s already all in for a referendum based on his few weeks living in the community:

During his first board meeting, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said the Jackson area has three housing developments on the way, one of which will have more than 100 houses.

 

Survey Says!

Back in June, I wrote:

The West Bend School District has sent out the survey asking about the appetite for a referendum. As explained when it was announced, this is the survey created by the propaganda group School Perceptions. You can see the whole survey here: school-referendum-survey-2018. As expected, it is more of a propaganda piece than a survey. Given that the survey is designed to elicit a specific, pro-referendum, response and I have almost no faith in the accurate tabulation of the results, I hesitate to even go through it.

As predicted, the survey returned the results that the School Board paid to get.

More than 2,800 community members and staff of the West Bend School District responded to the survey. Non-parent, non-staff community members were least supportive of a referendum, with 22 percent in favor of doing nothing for the aging Jackson Elementary and high schools.

I would note that there are about 40,000 residents of the district, so that’s about a 7% return rate. And the controls on submitting multiple surveys were pretty loose.

Among all taxpayers surveyed, which excludes some staff and parents, 50 percent of taxpayers supported a new elementary or a remodel. The town of Jackson supported a new building at a rate of 62 percent, and the village of Jackson supported a new school at a rate of 67 percent.

[…]

At the high school, the highest support was for increased safety and the lowest support was for a renovation of both the weight room and locker room.

The cost of building a new Jackson Elementary and doing every update for the high schools would be about $80 million. If all projects suggested by the survey were completed at the high school, that alone would cost more than $50 million.

I look forward to seeing the actual results with the detail behind it. All we have right now is a news story, which is just relaying what the district mouthpiece said.

Here comes your referendum, West Bend.

School Districts Fail to Use Act 10 to Control Budgets

The Wisconsin Department of Administration has done the public a massive service by releasing a detailed description of every Wisconsin School District’s health insurance plans. You can find it here.

The first thing that jumps out is that the health insurance plans that Wisconsin’s school districts give to their employees are still very generous. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We want our teachers to have good health insurance, but many private employers offer good health insurance and their costs are lower.

The average yearly premium for a family plan in Wisconsin’s school districts is $20,062.44. That compares to an average yearly premium of $18,764 in the U.S. For some rough math… if 50% of the 108,820 Wisconsin public school employees have a family plan and paid the national average, it would save taxpayers over $70 million per year – and district employees would still be receiving good health insurance.

The second thing that jumps out is that school districts are not taking advantage of Act 10 to control costs. Act 10 decoupled benefits decisions from union negotiations and left them at the discretion of the governing body. In this case, the local school boards have the power to determine the health insurance plans offered and the amount that employees pay for their share.

Across all 422 Wisconsin School Districts, Employees still only pay an average of 11.7% of the cost of their health insurance premiums for a family plan and 11.5% for a single plan. This is far below the average for private or government employees. According to the BLS, private sector employees pay an average of 33% of their health insurance premiums. State and local government employees pay an average of 29%! So here in Wisconsin, public school employees are paying less than half what other state and local employees pay for health insurance despite local school boards having complete power to being their employees into the national mainstream.

Clearly, there is still plenty of money to waste in our schools.

A Closer Look at the West Bend School District

Of course, since I live in the West Bend School District and they are preparing to ask the tax payers for tens of millions of dollars in a referendum despite declining enrollment, I have to take a look at my own district.

In the West Bend School District, the annual premium for a family plan is well above the state average coming in at $21,864. That does not include the fact that the school district provides an on-site clinic that provides services at no cost to the employees and without any co pays.

While receiving a more expensive health insurance plan, West Bend School District employees pay far less than other districts. Employees pay 8.2% of the premium for a family plan and 13.3% for a single plan. Furthermore, employees can earn a premium differential. The report doesn’t say how employees qualify for the differential, but a premium differential is generally a discount for things like not smoking, participating in wellness activities, etc. If an employee qualifies for the entire differential, their percentage for a family plan drops to 2.7% of the total premium, or $49 per month.

Just to recap, for a family plan, the average American state or local government employee pays 29% of the premium, the average Wisconsin school district employee pays 11.7%, and an employee of the West Bend School District pays 8.2%.

If the West Bend School District merely adopted a health insurance plan that was near the national average and asked employees to pay for 29%, it would save taxpayers $8,393 – PER FAMILY POLICY PER YEAR.

I ask the taxpayers of West Bend to remember these numbers when the district comes around again claiming poverty and asking for more money. The West Bend School Board, despite their claims of conservative leadership, are failing to manage benefits costs even to national or state norms.

Mayville Schools Display Raunchy “Protest Art” to Middle Schoolers

Wow. From the Washington County Insider. Follow the link for videos of parents and others commenting. What the heck are they teaching in Mayville? Is creating protest art a positive and effective use of taxpayer resources? Apparently the teacher who sanctioned this thing so. She said that, “The fact that a discussion is happening is a positive outcome, as well as, a learning opportunity.” Really?

 

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June 20, 2018 – Mayville, WI –  A piece of “protest art” by an 11th grader in the Mayville School District drew some harsh comments about what sort of education is being taught in the public schools in the small community of just over 4,900 in Dodge County.

Parents and taxpayers questioned the graphic nature of the piece that was part of a K-12 Art Fair held this past May at Mayville Middle School.

[…]

After the art fair in May calls were placed to School Board President John Westphal and District Superintendent Scott Sabol. Neither returned calls or offered a comment.

[…]

When two children from the Mayville Middle School came home and asked their parent about some of the words in the picture the parent said she tried to get a hold of teachers and administrators. Below is an email response from Mayville High School art teacher Sarah Heideman sent to a parent on May 23, 2018.

The school district’s Ted Hazelberg, also sent an email response to the parent on May 21, 2018.

From: Sarah Heideman <sheideman@mayville.k12.wi.us>
Date: Wed, May 23, 2018, 7:36 AM
Subject: Re: protest art – Invitation to view
Cc:, Scott Sabol <ssabol@mayville.k12.wi.us>, Bob Clark <bclark@mayville.k12.wi.us>, Ted Hazelberg <thazelberg@mayville.k12.wi.us >, John Schlender <jschlender@mayville.k12.wi.us >, Jessica Stortz <jstortz@mayville.k12.wi.us>

My student’s assignment was to create a talking conversation through a piece of artwork about something that they felt strongly about. The fact that a discussion is happening is a positive outcome, as well as, a learning opportunity. In the process, I apologise for not thinking about the placement and content for a younger viewer, since the show is over, I cannot fix it this year, but can promise in the future that these things will be addressed and learned from.
Thank you for raising the questions,
Sarah Heideman

West Bend School Superintendent’s New Contract

The last super made $155k. It looks like the district is paying a premium.

June 19, 2018 – West Bend, WI – On May 29 the West Bend School District announced it hired Don Kirkegaard as the new Superintendent.

Kirkegaard is scheduled to start in the district July 9.  His contract is public record and posted below. Highlights include an annual salary of $175,000, moving expenses up to $15,000 and the “District shall annually contribute 6% of the Superintendent’s salary ($10,500) to a 403 (b) retirement account.

Mountainous Middleton

Snort.

It wasn’t until after Sunday’s commencement that the Middleton School District became aware of a problem with its diplomas.

At first glance, everything seemed fine. The front cover correctly spelled the school’s name and included the name of the graduate on an inside cover.

On the inside left cover, a black-and-white drawing depicted what purported to be the school.

But that drawing included mountains in the background — and there are no mountains in Middleton near its high school. In addition, the drawing looked nothing like Middleton High School.

About 400 of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District’s more than 500 graduates received a diploma this year that included a drawing of a school they didn’t attend.