Category Archives: Education

West Bend School Board Prepares to Appoint New Principals

Well, well… the West Bend School Board posted its agenda for its Monday meeting. It includes this:

Action Item 6:45 a. Possible Board appointment of East High School principal and appointment of West High School principal

So here’s where we are… Sometime late Wednesday, the school board president posted notice of a special meeting for Thursday afternoon. On Thursday afternoon – without any public input, study, recommendation from the administration, cost estimate, job descriptions, org structure, or any other details – the school board voted to change from one to two principals for the West Bend High Schools. And now on Monday afternoon, they intend to appoint those principals without any time for people to submit applications, public input, interviews, etc.

This has all the hallmarks of a board that has already colluded to create and then ram a couple of people into these positions. Such collusion would be illegal and a violation of open meeting laws. The lack of any real discussion of the issue on Thursday, or even asking the superintendent to weigh in, indicates that they had either already discussed it, or they have such a passive interest in asking tough questions that it borders on incompetence.  They already demonstrated astonishingly poor governance on Thursday. They appear to be about to compound that on Monday.

I will state again that two principals may indeed be preferable to one. I can certainly see the rationale for it. But the lack of transparency, nonexistent communication, eschewing of public input, failure to do even a rudimentary study of the costs or consequences, and disregard for even basic principles of good governance being displayed by this board is deplorable.

 

Walker Signs School Choice Bill

With all of the heat and controversy constantly raging, it is remarkable that this bipartisan bill was passed and signed with almost no fanfare.

MOUNT PLEASANT, WI — Gov. Scott Walker has signed a new voucher school bill into law Wednesday that requires private schools participating in a school choice program to conduct background checks of its employees.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 28-5 and was concurred by the Assembly with a vote of 67-30.

The new law also eliminates certain academic threshholds that choice schools must currently meet, including at least one of the following:

1) At least 70 percent of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.

2)) The private school’s average attendance rate for the pupils in the program is at least 90 percent

3) At least 80 percent of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic
progress

4) At least 70 percent of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the private school.

West Bend High Schools to Have Two Principals

I attended the meeting of the West Bend School Board that I mentioned this morning. What a deplorable example of governance.

Quick background… West Bend has two high schools in one building. It is apparently unique in this regard. Several years ago, in an effort to trim the cost of administration, the district went with a combined principal and single administrative staff. Tonight, the board voted to go back to two principals and, presumably, two staffs.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the decision itself. I see the sense in having two principals and as long as the cost of administration remains neutral or decreases, then it’s really just a matter of organizational structure. I can make an argument for either structure. But the method by which the board made their decision was an example of exceedingly poor governance.

Bear in mind that this is a board whose newest members have promised better transparency and stakeholder input. It is also a school district that was just completed a study about its communications. The study was fairly critical of the district’s communications and transparency and had several recommendations. The campaign promises and study were ignored in this process.

First, the board called a special meeting with almost no notice. The meeting notice was released the night before the meeting. They claim it was released 24 hours in advance in accordance with the law, but if they did it was by the skin of their teeth. The notice was buried in their website, but did not appear on their social media outlets or anywhere else. The only way anyone would have known about the meeting was if they happened to scan the public notices at the library this morning or dug into the meeting agendas about seven clicks down into the district’s website. Fortunately, the Washington County Insider saw it and wrote about it. That appears to be how most people who managed to attend the meeting heard about it.

Second, the description of the meeting in the notice did not mention one principal versus two. It was generic language about administrative policies. The only reason anyone knew that the board would be discussing splitting the principal position into two was because the board president emailed The Washington County Insider saying so.

In other words, the board planned to make a rather significant decision regarding the administrative structure of West Bend’s High Schools and failed to make even a cursory effort to inform the public or invite input. Indeed, their actions indicate that they were almost trying to evade public input.

During the meeting, Board President Tiffany Larson read a lengthy preamble laying out the rationale for the meeting. She stated that after hearing feedback during a listening panel, she thought that the public wanted two principals, so she brought it to the board. Board Member Monty Schmiege questioned her on this point later in the meeting. Larson admitted that the panel was actually a listening panel for hiring a new principal and was not to discuss this issue. She admitted that it was an off hand comment from someone during the meeting. One of the few speakers was an assistant principal who was a member of that panel. She questioned it and said that she did not recall the issue even being discussed. Larson also didn’t name who made the comment. Nobody can apparently even verify that the root comment that generated this meeting even happened.

A few speakers managed to speak during the public comment period. They all supported two principals, but several of them also complained about the lack of communication or notice. One person mentioned that she is a parent whose husband is a teacher and the only way she found out about the meeting was on the Washington County Insider. There was no notice to parents, faculty, staff, or anyone else.

Larson and board member Tonnie Schmidt both brushed aside concerns about communication or public input. Larson made some comments about this being a discussion in the community for years. They said that the reason for the urgency was that they wanted to get it changed prior to the new school year starting. The cited a couple of letters from former principals and comments from unnamed people in the community. Apparently, that passes for public input. I, for one, didn’t even know it was up for discussion until this morning, and now it is done. I suspect that hundreds of people will read this, the Washington County Insider, or the Daily News over the next couple of days and have had no idea this even happened.

Schmiege also made reference to the fact that the issue was discussed previously in a closed executive session and apparently the Superintendent was going to conduct a study of the issue and make a recommendation. The board acted without any research, study, cost estimates, or recommendation from the administration. We have no idea what the cost will be. We don’t know what the division of labor will be. We don’t know what the reporting structure will be. We don’t know anything. All we know is that now there will be two principals instead of one. Larson dismissed such concerns saying that West Bend had two principals for decades and it will work. Only ignorance could instill such confidence.

I would note that I did reach out this morning for comment from every board member. None of them have responded. This is the third or fourth time I’ve asked for comment without any response. The new board’s communication policy appears to be to not communicate at all.

Emergency School Board Meeting Tonight in West Bend

Well, this is curious

NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

Education Service Center 735 S. Main Street,

West Bend Board Room Thursday,

July 20, 2017 5:00 pm

Call to order

1. Action Item

a. High School Administrative Reorganization

2. Executive session pursuant to Wis. Stats. 19.85(1)(c) to consider employment, promotion, compensation or performance evaluation data of any public employee over which the governmental body has jurisdiction or exercises responsibility, and take any such action, if necessary, based on its discussion, namely: review and consideration of high school administrative assignments

Adjourn

This is odd for a few reasons. First, as far as I can tell, this notice went out last night or early this morning – less than 24 hours before a school board meeting. That is hardly adequate notice for a public meeting. Usually when a meeting is called with so little notice, it is done so because of some emergency or critical issue – like a security issue or a major HR issue. The stated reason for this meeting does not strike me as an emergency. It strikes me as a normal policy issue that could easy be dealt with in the normal course of business for the board. Why the last minute urgency?

Second, on the issue itself, I’m hearing that it is to discuss whether the West Bend High Schools should have a principal for each high school, as they had in the past, or continue with a single principal for both schools, as they are currently structured. If that is indeed the topic to be discussed, then why not put that in the description of the meeting? The reason stated in the public notice is very vague and dull-sounding, but I know that many school district stakeholders have a passionate interest in the issue of one principal vs. two. Why does the notice obfuscate the topic to be discussed?

Third, if the school board is calling an emergency meeting to talk about whether to have two principals instead of one, I can only assume that that means that some of them really want two. Why have an emergency meeting to just affirm the status quo? But I thought the majority of the school board members ran for office saying that they wanted fewer administrators – not more.

We’ll see what happens tonight.

UPDATE: The Washington County Insider has confirmation that this meeting is, indeed, about one vs. two high school principals. Why didn’t they put that in the meeting notice then? And, again, why the special meeting for it?

According to an email from West Bend School Board president Tiffany Larson, “It is a discussion pertaining to the benefit of returning to the traditional 2 principal arrangement or maintaining the current model of 1 principal for 2 high schools.”

Bill Would Allow Schools To Provide Firearm Education

Good.

Wisconsin high school students would learn how to handle a range of guns — from handguns to rifles — as an elective class under a state Assembly bill introduced last week. 

Rep. Ken Skowronski (R-Franklin) is the lead sponsor of the bill, which would allow schools to offer on-site gun education classes. Its purpose is to promote gun safety and to boost participation in trap shooting, he said.

The bill would not change a current law that prohibits live ammunition and its use on school property.

The bill would not require schools to offer a class. If they did, students would not have to take it. However, the bill would require school superintendents to develop curricula.

Bias in the Classroom

Teachers are humans and subject to all of the same biases and flaws as anyone else. Most of them will be professionals, but even kids pick up on body language and tone.

As teachers, we are bound by the 1996 Education Act to present different political beliefs impartially and to not promote partisan political views. Yet, probably unintentionally, my school is often an echo-chamber for the leftwing views of its staff and its students’ parents.

Views that fall outside the accepted liberal-left spectrum get short shrift in my staffroom. I have watched teachers react incredulously – almost to the point of tears – when colleagues have tried floating a reasonable case for Brexit. This would be harmless enough if it did not put in doubt their ability empathise with views opposed to their own.

Unfortunately, I see that lack of empathy in the classroom. It worries me that few of my colleagues seem to understand why Conservatives think as they do. In lessons discussing the general election, I have seen teachers make half-hearted attempts to present a rightwing line of reasoning about the major issues. Their bored or frustrated tone of voice says it all.

In theory students are introduced to a range of ideologies through studying government and politics. But I have only heard Labour politicians being criticised by fellow teachers for being too rightwing. We have had assemblies celebrating feminists and the campaign for a living wage, which are excellent and informative, but with no attention given to right-of-centre subjects (none that weren’t heavily critical, anyway).

Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules on Open Meetings

Excellent! There seems to be a trend of school boards trying to do more and more in the dark. We need to be vigilant about pushing that trend back.

MADISON – The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday ruled Appleton school officials violated the open meetings law when they reviewed a freshman reading class behind closed doors.

The unanimous decision by Justice Michael Gableman reversed two lower court rulings. The case now returns to Waupaca Circuit Court for further proceedings.

UW Won’t Cover UWO Foundation Debt

Good.

The University of Wisconsin System will not use taxpayer money to pay the debts of the troubled UW-Oshkosh Foundation, officials said Tuesday, and has backed out of talks with the nonprofit’s creditors about a potential settlement.

It would be “inappropriate” to use public funding to cover what the foundation still owes for a series of improper real estate projects orchestrated by two former top administrators at the Oshkosh campus, said Regent Michael Grebe.

UW officials acknowledged in May that they were in “preliminary discussions” on a settlement with banks that loaned the UW-Oshkosh Foundation money, prompting an outcry from lawmakers who said they opposed a taxpayer-funded “bailout” of the private nonprofit.

 But Grebe said Tuesday that the System is “no longer engaged in settlement discussions, and there is no indication as to if (or) when those talks would resume.”

Administrative Movement In West Bend School District

Ouch.

Jeridon Clark, a Mequon-Thiensville school administrator who announced in March he would take a job as the new principal of the West Bend high schools, is staying in the Mequon-Theinsville district.

Clark was expected to step into the role at the beginning of July, taking over for Tracey Conners, who has resigned after a year as the interim principal. The district also announced Monday that Director of Secondary Education and Fine Arts Jason Levash has resigned effective June 30, the sixth to administrator to leave around the end of the academic year.

It looks like Clark got a counteroffer from the Mequon District and will be staying there as the Assistant Superintendent.

The amount of turnover in the administration does seem heavier than it should be. Bearing in mind that the district has gotten a new Superintendent and a new board in the last year, some turnover is to be expected. Some people just like things they way they were and would rather move on or retire rather than deal with a new regime. But the number of departures is high and the district is clearly having difficulty finding replacements.

Unique Paths for Unique People

She is absolutely right. People are different and have different aptitudes and ambitions. We should embrace a diversity of choices and not assume that college is the best option.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Saturday “not everyone is college material” while urging for workforce development courses to be made available at technical colleges.

“Not everyone is college material,” Conway told host Jeanine Pirro on Fox’s “Justice with Judge Jeanine.” “Not everyone has to graduate from a four year college with a mountain of debt and very few prospects.”

Conway pointed to a trip President Trump and his daughter and special counselor Ivanka Trump will be making to Wisconsin for ‘Workforce Development Week.’ There, the president will visit a technical college along with Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta.

“They’ll be going there to talk at a technical college and really see what’s going on there and get some best practices as Ivanka’s been doing for these roundtables and these listening sessions,” Conway told Pirro.

“This involvement in workforce development means that if people want a vocational educational — technical educational — skills certificate they should have access to that,” she added.

Conway said skills-certificate programs that make people “employable” need to be valued in the U.S.

Teacher Fired for Crass Awards

Yeah, that’s the right call.

A former NFL cheerleader has been let go by the school she taught at after hosting a mock awards ceremony in which a student was named ‘most likely to become a terrorist’.

The teacher, named as Stacy Lockett, also handed an award to a 13-year-old who she branded ‘most likely to blend in with white people’.

The Channelview Independent School District, in the Houston area, disclosed in a statement issued Tuesday that it had parted with the junior high school teacher.

The tersely worded statement said simply: ‘We have concluded our investigation and the teacher responsible is no longer employed by the district.’

Teaching Gun Safety in Schools

I completely agree that schools should include more practical courses like basic economics, personal finance, basic agriculture, and, yes, gun safety. I’m not as convinced that it needs to be driven at the state level. Local districts seem perfectly capable of partnering with local law enforcement if they want to offer a course like this. West Bend even has an excellent local private business, Delta Defense, with some of the best firearm safety instructors in the nation that I’m sure would be delighted to help educate kids about gun safety.

MADISON — A group of Republican legislators is circulating a bill that would create gun safety classes for high school students.

Under the bill, the state superintendent would have to work with the state Department of Natural Resources or police or an organization that specializes in firearms safety or certifies firearm instructors to develop the curriculum for an elective class on gun safety. Schools would not be required to offer the course.

School Board Members Survive Recall

Excellent.

Spring Green, Wisc…] An effort to recall two River Valley School Board members who voted to close two elementary schools with declining enrollment failed Tuesday night.

According to unofficial results, Mark Strozinsky received 1,071 votes to his opponent’s 475, and Frederic Lausly won with 1,073 votes to his challenger’s 474.

“We’ve been told there are a lot of districts around the state watching how this plays out, because they’re facing very similar situations,” Stronzinsky told MacIver News.

The River Valley School District is facing a $1.5 million deficit. Last fall, it asked voters for $9.35 million over the next four years. They said no.

Oftentimes a school district will simply go right back to referendum in that situation. However, River Valley did something different. It looked for other ways to plug its budget gap and honor the voters’ wishes.

The voters in that district seem to be rational. This has been an issue in districts all over the state. The reality is that populations move and demographics change. Some districts are growing and some are shrinking. The issue is that the Education Industrial Complex always demands more money either way. In an era of growing enrollment, they want more money to educate more kids. In an era of declining enrollment, they want more money to keep empty schools open and staff employed because they argue that expenses don’t decline with fewer kids. Funny how that works, eh?

In this case, the school board tried to make the latter argument and failed. The district has seen declining enrollment and, subsequently, declining state aid. But they had refused to cut expenses accordingly by doing things like closing some buildings. This drove up their debt and left them in financial straights. The district went to the voters for more money via referendum threatening to close schools if the referendum lost. The voters said, “fine,” and denied the referendum. The school board followed through and closed two schools. A cabal of spenders were unhappy with that decision and tried to recall two of the school board members, and now they have failed. The majority of the voters in that district have been clear several times now in that they do not want higher taxes to fix budget problems. They want sound fiscal management from their school board and are willing to defend those board members who engage in it.

Good for the voters of the River Valley School District.

 

Turmoil in West Bend School District?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a big, front page (on the web) story about the stuff happening in the West Bend School District. There is no new information in it. It just walks through some of the changes in the board, administration, and the recent teacher resignations. The best part of the story were the comments from former board member Therese Sizer.

The teachers union’s fight to stay relevant often puts it at odds with fiscal conservatives in West Bend who support the law. Meanwhile, some of West Bend’s loudest voices, no matter what camp they’re in, battle for their views in highly active Facebook groups. The tension appears to sometimes fuel negative relations in real life.

“It’s sort of like a perfect storm,” said Sizer, the school board member who resigned this year because of the board’s new nepotism policy. “People feel they can be aggressive over an issue, social media emboldens them and it becomes this perpetuating cycle of misinformation and unkindness.”

Sizer added that West Bend has quality schools and that she’s glad she encouraged her daughter to teach there.

“This is a very capable school district,” Sizer said. “I’d hate to see it destroyed because of a group of people who don’t know how to have a civilized discussion.”

Campus Free Speech Bill Moves Ahead

Good.

The Assembly’s higher education committee passed an amended version of a Republican-backed campus speech bill Tuesday that requires University of Wisconsin System institutions to punish students who take part in disruptive protests.

Changes to the legislation spelled out more specifically the types of disruptions that could lead to discipline for UW students and employees, and toughened penalties for those who run afoul of the new rules by requiring universities to expel any student who violates the policy three times.

First Amendment advocates had warned that the bill’s original language was unconstitutionally vague, and raised concerns that its mandatory punishments treat mild heckling with the same severity as the at times violent demonstrations that have led Republican lawmakers across the country to introduce similar legislation.

The amendments and the bill itself passed the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities on party-line votes Tuesday.

The bill directs the UW Board of Regents to create a process for disciplining students who engage in “violent or other disorderly conduct that materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others.” It also states that System institutions must “strive to remain neutral” on public policy controversies.

Update of West Bend Teacher Separations

Interesting.

From:tconners@wbsd-schools.org
Date: May 26, 2017 at 3:06:44 PM
Subject:Update for High School Families
Reply-To:tconners@wbsd-schools.org
———————————————–

Good afternoon parents and community members,

We wanted to advise you about a change in District staffing at the high schools which may have a short-term impact on the remaining few days of your child’s school year. Effective today, four of our teachers elected to resign from their positions at West Bend East and West High Schools. While we understand that the timing of these resignations is not ideal, the District accepted them due to the specific circumstances leading up to the resignations. Please know that while we wish to be as transparent as possible, due to confidentiality laws and out of respect for the privacy of the educators involved, we are unable to provide further details about the specifics of their resignations. We can say factually, however, that these resignations were in no way related to any opinions expressed about curriculum.

Additionally, your child may have noticed an increased police presence during their school day today. While no specific threat was identified in advance, we were made aware of social media conversations which indicated there was the potential for disruption at some point during the school day. Thus, the decision was made, in conjunction with the West Bend Police Department, to increase officer visibility throughout the day as a precaution.

We want to reiterate that our primary focus continues to be the instruction of your children, and ensuring that they are prepared for the upcoming final exams, and the end of the school year. We will not lose sight of that focus.

Lastly, out of regard for the four educators involved, we encourage you to respect their privacy moving forward.

Sincerely,

Erik Olson, Superintendent

Tracey Conners, Principal West Bend High Schools

I have heard from a couple of sources that this has to do with some inappropriate online activity that dates back a couple of weeks. They were told to knock it off and they didn’t. After getting caught again, they were told to resign or be fired, reportedly. Interesting that they all chose to resign. That would indicate that they knew they were caught dead to rights. Otherwise, they would have been better off to get fired and sue the district for wrongful termination.

I have asked the president of the school board for comment. So far, she has not responded (I asked yesterday). I have also filed an open records request for more details. In the meantime, I hope that the district shields the kids from as much of the unfortunate consequences of this as possible.

West Bend School District Fires Four Teachers

Well, this is unfortunate considering there are only a couple of weeks left in the school year.

Good Evening Parents,
We would like to communicate to you that there may be a change to your child’s English teacher for the remainder of the semester. Should a change need to occur, a certified English teacher will be placed in your child’s classroom to continue quality instruction and see to it that your child is prepared for success as we approach final exams.
We apologize for the disruption to the routine this may cause your child. We are confident that your child’s needs will be supported through the end of the school year.
For confidentiality reasons we are unable to provide specific details, but appreciate your understanding.

Tracey Conners

Rumors are swirling and for obvious reasons, the school district can’t disclose information since this is a personnel matter. Federal and state laws prohibit an employer from such disclosures. But my understanding is that it has something to do with inappropriate online activity of a non-sexual nature. I’m sure we will get more details in the coming days.

New School Board Member Selected in West Bend

He certainly seems qualified. Hopefully his experience can help balance a very green board. Hat tip to the Washington County Insider.

May 24, 2017 – West Bend, WI – Tim Stellmacher was selected during a special meeting tonight to fill an open seat on the West Bend School Board. The term runs 1-year.

The seat opened after Therese Sizer resigned her post March 20.

Stellmacher was one of five people who submitted an application for the open seat. Others included Pat Seghers, Amy Swanson Kieser, Bob Miller and Tina Hochstaetter.

Stellmacher is 70 years old and has lived in West Bend since 1979.  Stellmacher said he is retired. His LinkedIn profile shows he works as a school business management consultant and previously worked in the Waupun Area and Hustisford School Districts.

Wisconsin Republicans Lean Toward Spending Increase

Why does it seem that on every issue the Wisconsin legislative Republicans are tilting toward the most anti-conservative position?

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed freezing tuition next year, cutting tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 school year and providing $35 million in taxpayer funds to the UW System to cover the lost tuition revenue from the tuition cut.

Walker also is proposing $42.5 million in new performance-based funding to be divvied up among the UW campuses, $11.6 million for UW employee raises and $50 million to restore some of the $250 million in cuts the System absorbed in the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30.

Assembly Republicans oppose cutting tuition, said finance committee co-chairman John Nygren, R-Marinette. They would prefer to use some of the $35 million on financial aid for low-income students.

I’m not a big fan of Walker’s proposal. While a tuition decrease would be welcome, back-filling it with more state funds merely shifts the burden without correcting the problem. The problem is that the university system spends too dang much and has made itself unaffordable for a lot of middle class Wisconsin families. But at least Walker’s proposal is spending neutral.

Legislative Republicans apparently just want to spend more. They want to spend the additional $35 million on UW not as an offset to a tuition decrease, but just to spend more money. Instead of subsidizing kids who can’t afford to attend a UW school, how about they focus on bringing down the cost so that we don’t feel a need to subsidize so many kids?

Nass Pushes Back on Taxpayer Bailout for UWO Foundation

Nass is spot on.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) on Thursday released a letter he wrote to Cross that states he’s aware of efforts to reach a deal that potentially would use public funds “to assist in what would be a bailout” of debts of the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

“I am aware that such a bailout might need action by the Legislature to include elements of a deal in the 2017-’19 biennial budget,” Nass wrote. He said he hoped no one involved planned to “rush a bailout that benefits the private foundation and the banks/investors involved at the expense of the taxpayers or students.”

He urged Cross “to keep your commitment that the public won’t be forced to fund the inappropriate decisions of two campus administrators and the failed oversight of the System.”

[…]

At issue is the fact UW-Oshkosh’s private fundraising foundation does not have enough cash to cover $14.5 million in debt for several real estate projects under investigation by the state Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice is negotiating the settlement on behalf of the UW System and Board of Regents.

The UW-Oshkosh projects were the subject of a suit the UW System filed in January against former Chancellor Richard Wells and his chief business officer, Thomas Sonnleitner, for allegedly funneling millions of dollars in university money into real estate projects through the private foundation to push that work despite a weak economy.

The UW System ideally wants the UW-Oshkosh Foundation to remain solvent so that its assets are not frozen or at risk. That includes scholarship support for students. The UW-Oshkosh Foundation in fiscal 2016 provided $1.3 million in scholarships.

Note that despite the name, the UW-Oshkosh Foundation is a private organization that raises money to support UWO. There’s no good reason for the taxpayers to be on the hook for their bankruptcy.