Tag Archives: CFAC

West Bend’s Upcoming Referendum

Despite declining enrollment, the West Bend School District is running full speed with a referendum. This email from the Director of Facilities to the CFAC members went out this morning:

From: Dave Ross <daveross@wbsd-schools.org>
Date: February 23, 2018 at 9:53:33 AM CST
Subject:Update to CFAC members

Last Tuesday night, the Board of Education met for a work session to discuss the work that you have been doing and to make some decisions about what needs to be done going forward in order to keep things moving forward. Video of the meeting can be viewed at:


The meeting had three parts to it: the first was an update to the board by Bray on the work they have done to date, the second portion was dedicated to looking at the districts debt picture which was presented by Robert W. Baird and the third part was an overview of the methodology for the community survey which was presented by School Perceptions.

Here is a very brief synopsis of each part:

Matt Wolfert from Bray Architects reviewed the drawings with the board including the renovation option for Jackson. The board asked a lot of questions but seemed quite pleased with the progress that has been made to date.

Brian Brewer from R.W. Baird reviewed the debt picture of the district. The district does have some existing debt but has structured that debt wisely. In addition, the district has been putting money into the Jackson Trust. The long and short of things is that the district could do as much as an approximately $40 million referendum and not raise property taxes because of the structure of the existing debt and the Jackson Trust.

Finally, Bill Foster of School Perceptions presented on how his company would go about performing a community survey. He also advised the board to listen to the results of what the survey told them. Failing to do so often leads to an erosion of trust in the board from the community.

This was a really short overview so I would encourage you, (especially if you’ve got a spare 2 or 3 hours) to watch the video.

The last thing I wanted to do is share a little more information. During our committee meetings many of you asked for articles and/or research on the effects that a facility has on education. I thought that this article:


provided a fairly good overview but more importantly gives many references/sources for further investigation.

As always, if you have any questions, please let me know and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

Have a great weekend.

Dave Ross

Director of Facilities and Operations



Based on the email, it looks like they are going to try to pull the “let’s spend $40 million (plus millions more in interest), but we won’t increase taxes.” Of course, that commits more of the operating budget to debt service, thus reducing funds for teachers, supplies, etc. It also completely misses the opportunity to decrease taxes as those older debts are paid off.

Such a move of spinning off debt for decades in order to keep the yearly expenses lower also increases the likelihood of tax increases in the future. It tightens the part of the budget that can be used for actual operations, and remember that enrollment in the district is expected to decline. As enrollment declines, so will funding. But the debt service must be paid. The end result is that there will be less and less money for the actual operating funds that can be used for paying staff and supporting the daily operations of the district.

Putting another $40 million on the district credit card in an era of declining enrollment is reckless fiscal management of the district. It will be interesting to hear from the school board members and school board candidates as this discussion evolves.

West Bend CFAC Plans Massive New School

The West Bend School District’s Citizens Facility Advisory Committee (CFAC) met again last night as they build their sales pitch for a referendum. You may recall that this entire process was exposed as a sham several weeks ago. In any case, last night they moved ahead with a plan to build a new Jackson Elementary that would be 44% larger than the current one to educate 24% fewer kids. Crazy math, eh? You can watch the video of some of the recording at this link, but here are the raw numbers:

The current Jackson Elementary is 59,176 square feet. In the 2008-2009 school year, 528 kids were enrolled. In the 2014-2015 school year, the district reorganized with the rebuilding of the middle schools and pulled the 5th grade out of Jackson. That left 416 kids in that year. Since then, enrollment has declined every year with only 370 kids in the school for the 2017-2018 school year. So… in the current school year, there are 158 fewer kids in the school than in 2008. The enrollment projections for the school do not predict any massive increase in enrollment anytime in the foreseeable future.

The current plan being discussed by CFAC would use a target enrollment of 400 kids and build a 85,000 square foot school for them. I know that kids are getting bigger nowadays, but sheesh! That means that in 2008, the school provided an average of 112.1 square feet per kid. In the current school year, there are 159.9 square feet per kid. The new school, if built, would provide a whopping 212.5 square feet per kid.

As a point of comparison, here are the standards in the CFAC packet and some data from our current schools.


As you can see, the “Industry standard” for elementary schools is 134 square feet per child. The current Jackson Elementary provides much more than that. The proposed new school would have more space per kid than any school in the district – by far.

This what you get when you have the architecture firm that will most likely get to build the new school also doing the proposals.


West Bend School District’s CFAC Exposed as Sham

I attended the latest meeting of the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee (CFAC) for the West Bend School District last night. They accidentally dropped a bombshell.

First, a little background. The CFAC was created by the School Board. It’s specifically charged with:

…identifying and confirming needs and exploring potential solutions to our district’s facility needs at Jackson Elementary School and East/West High Schools

I will remind the gentle reader that when this was created back in August, I wrote extensively about how this was a sham process designed to lead to a referendum. Bray Architects was hired by the district to run this process and they have a sales model of selling new schools to gullible taxpayers using faux “advisory” committees that always seem to end up at the same conclusion. My interpretation has been vehemently denied.

At the meeting last night, they all but admitted that the CFAC is not about assessing needs and evaluating options – as stated in the committee’s charge. No, the decision to build a new Jackson School has already been decided and the committee’s job is to help Bray and the School Board find the best way to sell it to the taxpayer.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take my word for it. The Washington County Insider was there and has it on video. Here is the relevant video. Skip ahead to about 4:45 and listen to that exchange.

Here’s the exchange in print:

Bray facilitator: “The decision to build a new Jackson school was made in the prior efforts that was reviewed at the last committee meeting.”

Committee member: “Why do we need to go through all of this?”

Bray Facilitator: “Because we need to help the community understand why a new Jackson is being considered.”

There you have it.

The committee members are not actually determining needs and evaluating potential solutions as their charter states. The solution has been determined and they are just trying to identify the hot button “needs” that will sell it. The committee members are being used as a community focus group to help the School Board and Bray figure out the best way to sell a new school – funded with a referendum – to the citizens.

One final related, but side, note. The School District has been a woeful job of keeping the community informed. In this case, the CFAC website is hasn’t even bothered to post the agenda or minutes from the last two meetings. They don’t even have the dates and times of the meetings posted even though it is a public meeting. This is consistent with visibility to other meetings. Since earlier this year, they are doing a very poor job of posting agenda, minutes, videos, etc. like they had been doing previously. Transparency at the West Bend School District has taken a big step backward.


West Bend School District Considers Facilities Needs

I had the opportunity to attend the West Bend School District’s Citizens Facility Advisory Committee (CFAC) meeting a couple of nights ago. If you would like to see the raw videos of what happened, please check our Judy Steffes’ YouTube channel and look for the CFAC videos. Steffes is a member of the committee in her role as a citizen and taxpayer, but she was also the only member of a media outlet to attend. Thankfully, she recorded most of the meeting so people can be involved even if they can’t attend.

Before commenting further, let me remind you of my bias going into the meeting. I believe that the school board really wants to push a referendum to get money to replace Jackson Elementary and make substantial expenditures on the High School. To that end, they hired a firm, Bray Architects, that specializes in running a biased process to end at that result. I can’t say that my beliefs were disproved by participating in the meeting.

The flow of the meeting was relatively simple. The first half of the meeting was just a recap of the previous meeting and some additional information. Then we took about an hour to tour some of the key infrastructure elements in the building. The focus this meeting was on “behind the scenes” items like the boiler room, server room, etc. The next meeting will tour classrooms and learning areas. After the tour, the CFAC members broke into small groups to discuss and respond to specific questions from the facilitators.

Here are of my observations in no particular order of priority or importance:

  • I am incredibly thankful for the members of the community who participate in these things. They are long, often boring, and require a lot of personal time and effort to participate. Same goes to school board members. Two of them, Joel Ongert and Tonnie Schmidt, attended the first half of the CFAC meeting and ducked out during the tour.
  • The above nature of these kinds of process also skews the participation. People with a direct interest in the outcome – like district employees, relatives, etc. – are more likely to make the personal sacrifice to participate. The membership of the committee reflects this systemic bias.
  • That being said, there were some excellent questions and excellent discussions. For example, in discussing buildings, one of the CFAC members mentioned that the test results disclosed at the School Board meeting earlier this week did not seem to correlate with the age of the buildings. In other words, some of the best results came out of the oldest buildings. She asked if there was a general correlation between building age, etc. and educational outcomes? The answer, by the way, is no. Once basic thresholds of space and safety are met, the rest has little impact on outcomes.
  • The entire process reminded me of a maxim that Mark Belling frequently touts. Namely, you can only react to the news you know. Let me explain… the tour took us to the server room which serves as the hub in a hub-and-spoke network for the district. I’ve seen a lot of server rooms and this one wasn’t great, but there wasn’t anything surprising. Clearly it was located in a less-than-ideal location years ago without much thought. It lacks a raised floor and industry-standard cooling, but it’s fine and I’ve seen a lot worse in private companies.The tour guide explained that there is a large hot water unit above the room that would essentially shut down the district if it leaked into the server room. OK, good to know. At the end of the meeting, the CFAC small groups were asked to list the “items in most need of improvement?” What made the top of the list? The risk of the server room being flooded, of course. The small groups largely just parroted the concerns and perceived risks from the district employees back to the Bray people running the meeting. But as you can see, now those concerns and risks have been laundered from employees’ concerns to citizens’ concerns. When presented to the public, these concerns will be labeled as coming from the CFAC.
  • Going to the point above, some of the great questions from some of the committee members highlighted the difference between theoretical risks and real risks. For example, when asked during the tour of the server room if the server room had ever actually flooded, the answer was that it had almost flooded once in the last five years. Watch this video about 2:15 in. And then later in the meeting, an audience member went into great detail about other mitigation techniques that could be used to prevent flooding. Watch this video about 1:45 in. In short, while there is a theoretical threat of the server room flooding, it hasn’t ever happened in anyone’s memory and there are some simple things that can be done to prevent it.
  • Going back to the way the meeting is designed to get a specific result, once the tour was complete and the CFAC members broke into small groups, the two questions they were asked to respond to were, “What surprised you the most?” and “What items were in most need of improvement?” As expected, the responses were a reflection of what district employees told them during the tour.
  • At least at the high school, the district facilities staff seems to do an excellent job. All of the equipment look well maintained and on a regular maintenance/replacement schedule.

The process continues in a couple of weeks. The next meeting on the 25th, the CFAC members will get a briefing on the latest trends in school design, a lesson in School Funding 101, and a tour of the educational areas of the building. The design of the meeting is intended to show CFAC members how neat new schools look, compare that to our “old crappy” schools, and show how there isn’t any way to build new cool stuff within the confines of the existing budget.

I encourage the committee members to continue to ask tough questions. When presented with a theoretical risk, they should ask questions like, “has that ever happened?” and “what can be done to mitigate the risk?” That way, they can discern if it is a serious concern or not. Also, I encourage committee members to figure out if and how any suggested proposals tie into improving educational outcomes. As I said, once the basic standards of safety and space are met, how do buildings correlate to better education? Frankly, I’d rather hire and pay for great teachers than build different-looking buildings.