Tag Archives: West Bend School Board
One of the West Bend School Board candidates has a troubled history in Washington County. Before taking her current job, Nancy Justman was the Executive Director of AIS, which runs the Washington County Fair Park, for about eight years. She resigned abruptly after a lot of heat for botching the budget and running up a massive debt. Mark Petersen, one of the now defunct liberal columnists for the local paper, has some of the background:
The Education Committee minutes, starting on March 31, begin to tell the story. Nancy Justman, chairwoman of AIS, “presented a draft master plan for Fair Park dated February 11, 2008, and reviewed the 32 items identified in the plan. It was noted the items have not been prioritized and there are no cost figures associated with the items.” The Education Committee members approved the draft – apparently on the basis of trust, since they accepted a “master plan” that had no cost figures and no spending priorities. In the months that followed, no plan beyond this draft was approved by the County Board.
After March 10, new supervisors were elected, summer passed and, by early November, the Finance Committee had hammered out and approved a solid county budget.
Then something odd happened: a few weeks after the budget was finished AIS asked for the extra $410,000 to cover its overruns. AIS had to know about the additional $130,000 worth of improvements, apparently approved on the fly as construction was underway. Moreover, since the summer’s main events had failed to produce the anticipated profits, someone at AIS had to have known, well before the budget was finished, that they needed an additional $410,000. So why would AIS bring it up after the budget was passed? I’d like to know.
More alarming, when the request was finally presented in December, it was still missing the dollar amounts any competent County Board needs to make a good decision. The minutes from the County Board proceedings on Dec. 9 indicate that, as they’d done nearly seven months earlier, members of the Board asked for an updated business plan, this time to be submitted no later than Jan. 15.
While not excusing the poor management of the Washington County Board at the time, Justman’s failure to provide basic budgetary information was negligence bordering on incompetence. Justman resigned and ran for the hills a couple of months later under a cloud of controversy.
TOWN OF POLK – Nancy Justman, Executive Director of the Washington County Fair Park since July 2001 has accepted a new position outside of Washington County. Her last day at the Fair Park will be April 9.“We are sorry to see her leave. She did a good job for the Agriculture and Industrial Society,” said Gordon Tonn, board of directors president. “We wish her well in her new endeavors, and it’s unfortunate that she had to leave us. She did a good job for both the AIS and the county.”
County Board Chairman Herb Tennies was surprised when notified by the Daily News that Justman had submitted her resignation. He declined to comment until he could read a copy of the resignation letter.
Justman touts her experience working with a board as a qualification for the West Bend School Board. Experience does not always mean successful performance.
The West Bend Chamber of Commerce held its forum for the candidates for the West Bend School Board. You can find a run down of the questions and responses at the Washington County Insider.
My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. The resignation of Therese Sizer last night puts it in a different context this morning. Here you go:
April 4 brings us another opportunity to exercise our right to elect our political and judicial leaders. While the national and state elections tend to get all of the attention, it is our local elected officials who arguably have more of a direct impact on our everyday lives. It is also our local officials who often work long hours, deal with a lot of quirky citizens and do so for little money or fame. We should all give our neighbors a big “thank you” for being willing to serve our community.
One of the important races on the ballot in West Bend and neighboring communities is for the West Bend School Board. Three of the seven board seats are on the ballot with only one incumbent running for re-election. The results of this election could push the school board in an entirely new direction.
Two incumbent school board members decided to not seek re-election. President Rick Parks and Vice President Bart Williams are both concluding their second terms and deserve a sincere thank you. While ideologically different, both Parks and Williams went about their business on the school board in a thoughtful, thorough, collegial, and effective manner. During their tenures, they navigated the district through the aftermath of Act 10, implemented a merit pay system for teachers, started a charter school, started a clinic for district staff, hired a new superintendent and many other things for which they should be proud. Thank you, gentlemen.
The third incumbent school board member did choose to seek re-election. Ryan Gieryn is running for his second term and wants to see through some of the issues he worked on in his first term including continuing to refine the teacher merit pay system, evaluate the effectiveness of the district’s testing regimen, direct the new superintendent that he helped hire and look ahead to replacing Jackson Elementary. While I did not support Gieryn when he ran the first time, his thoughtful and measured service on the board has been commendable and he has earned my vote for a second term.
There is also the issue with experience on the board. Our republican form of government is kept healthy by the constant refreshing of elected officials, but some experience in governing is necessary. An inexperienced and naïve school board shifts power to the unelected administration. If Gieryn does not win re-election, then every board member except one, Therese Sizer, would be serving their first term. Gieryn’s experience on the board will be particularly important as the new superintendent settles into his role.
Bob Miller is running for the school board for the second time having fallen just short last year. He has spent the past year talking to people, participating in school events and learning more about the district. Miller is a graduate of the district with three kids attending schools in West Bend.
He is a fiber optic technician, school bus driver, Boy Scout leader, father and husband who has some great common sense ideas to improve the district’s outcomes. A fiscal conservative, Miller wants to ensure that the district spends money wisely and has seen enough working and volunteering in the district to have some tangible ideas on how to save money. The second time is the charm for Miller and he deserves a seat on the board.
Richard Cammack has lived in West Bend for 22 years and wants to see the district improve in many areas. He believes in the importance of family, students, teachers and business and a school district that serves all constituents. Cammack considers himself a realist who needs to fully understand an issue and listen to the district’s stakeholders before making a decision. Cammack is receiving my third vote April 4.
The remaining three candidates, Tonnie Schmidt, Joel Ongert and Nancy Justman, are running as a bloc with virtually identical platforms. They all claim to be conservatives (one stands little chance of winning election in a district that is 70-plus percent conservative if one does not claim to be one). They trumpet “accountability” but only seem to want to hold administrators accountable. While that is a laudable goal, their reluctance to continue or strengthen even the mild performance pay standards for teachers is troubling.
Their repetition of the talking points coming out of the local teachers union and lefty talking heads leads one to believe that these three would be reliable agents for whatever the West Bend Education Association wants. Many of the yards in West Bend whose Hillary and Bernie signs died during the winter have now sprouted signs for Schmidt, Ongert and Justman with the coming of spring.
I will note that all three of these candidates refused to be interviewed for this column. Despite claiming to be conservatives, they had no appetite to be probed by the district’s only resident conservative columnist.
Once again West Bend is privileged to have some great people running for local office. I am happy to support three of them for the West Bend School Board. I will be happily voting for Ryan Gieryn, Bob Miller, and Richard Cammack on April 4.
March 20, 2017 – West Bend, WI – Therese Sizer has resigned from the West Bend School Board.
Sizer, a clerk on the board, read a prepared statement following a vote on policy 511.1 which related to nepotism within the district.
The board passed the policy on its second reading with a 6 – 0 vote; Sizer abstained as she has a daughter that works in the West Bend School District.
The policy essentially made clear that a board member cannot vote on a measure that affects a direct relative.
After the measure passed Sizer read a 3-page statement and left the meeting.
“I didn’t take it that she was upset,” said board member Ryan Gieryn. “She made clear that she didn’t try to do anything that would have an affect on her daughter and she’s always been very ethical.”
Gieryn described Sizer’s statement as “eloquent.”
During her statement Sizer mentioned how the nepotism policy would only allow her to vote on minute amounts and she’d have to recuse herself so much that she could not fulfill her responsibilities on the oath she took to perform her duties on the board.
“Sizer just said that with this policy in place she doesn’t feel she can truly fulfill her duties as a school board member because anything she votes on would affect teachers,” said Gieryn.
Wow. Clearly she thought that the new policy would conflict with her ability to fulfill her duties. Hats off to her ethics, but it doesn’t seem that the policy would effectively prohibit a family member of a school staff member from serving. She seems to be adhering to an exceedingly strict interpretation of the policy.
As you will see in my column tomorrow, this means that if Gieryn fails to win reelection, every single board member will be in their first term. I’m all for a healthy turnover on the board, but a little experience is helpful too.
Hmmmm… there are some interesting nuggets in the results. Here are the primary results for West Bend as conveniently posted by the Washington County Insider.
First off, turnout was extremely low. It is not unusual for West Bend to have over 80% turnout and usually outperforms the state in turnout even in these kinds of elections. All of the state results are not in yet, but it looks like West Bend will underperform this time. This is because the school board primary wasn’t really a primary since Tina Hochstaetter dropped out and the only other thing on the ballot was the DPI race. Some school referendums and more contentious school board primaries on other parts of the state drove turnout much higher – particularly in Madison.
Second, the West Bend school board results are telling. Three candidates, Schmidt, Justman, and Ongert are running as a block. They are using almost identical campaign messaging; signs for the three of them are appearing together in the same yards; and there is a large sign for the three of them together to be seen from Highway 45 as one goes south out of town. These three also received the most votes.
The question is, why? Although every school board candidate in West Bend is running as a conservative (because conservatives stand a better chance of winning in a city that is 70% conservative), these three candidates are being strongly supported by the local lefty and pro teachers union groups. Given that it is these groups that are more passionate about changing the makeup of the school board, they are more likely to have had turned out in this micro-turnout election.
The DPI results seem to support this conclusion. This is a county that voted 66% for Don Pridemore when he ran against Evers in 2013 and Pridemore’s campaign was drastically underfunded. It is a county that typically votes 70%-80% Republican. Yet in the DPI race, the conservative candidate only received 50% of the vote. This indicates a disproportionate turnout by the left side of the electorate in West Bend. Of course, there are no other races on the ballot that exactly match the geography of the school district, so rough comparisons are what we have to go on.
I would not read too much into this election. The April turnout is typically 25%-40% and a heated DPI race will drive higher turnout. That’s 2.5 to 4 times more voters than this election and 7 of 10 Benders are conservative. The makeup of the electorate in April will look very different. I am thankful that we appear to have six decent, earnest, honorable people from which to choose.
I attended the school board candidate forum hosted by Common Sense Citizens of Washington County this evening. It was a great introduction to the candidates and they all represented themselves well.
As usual, the Washington County Insider has a thorough recap, so I’ll spare you all from reading mine. Head over there and read all about it!
Feb. 8, 2017 – West Bend, WI – About 75 people turned out for the candidate forum at the West Bend Moose Lodge on Wednesday night. West Bend School Board candidates included Rick Cammack, Ryan Gieryn, Nancy Justman, Bob Miller, Joel Ongert, and Tonnie Schmidt
Confirmed. The good news is that even though there will still be an unnecessary primary for it, there isn’t really any additional cost because there is already a primary for the DPI seat.
Jan. 4, 2017 – West Bend, WI -Earlier today there was a report on WashingtonCountyInsider.com about the chance one of the seven candidates running for West Bend School Board would bow out.
That word has now been confirmed as Tina Hochstaetter has posted a message saying she will not be part of the Spring election. However, her name will remain on the ballot.
The six candidates running for three open seats on the West Bend School Board include
The ballot order will be draw at 5 p.m.
That would really stink if the taxpayers have to pay for an unnecessary primary because one of the candidates can’t make up his or her mind.
I was beginning to wonder if we would even have three, but according to the Washington County Insider, seven people have thrown their hats in the ring for three seats on the West Bend School Board. Thanks for being willing to serve, folks.
Jan. 3, 2017 – West Bend, WI – There will be a primary election Feb. 21 in the West Bend School District as seven people have filed the necessary paperwork to run for three open seats on the West Bend School Board.The candidates according to Deb Roensch, the executive assistant to the superintendent, include Joel G. Ongert, incumbent Ryan Gieryn, Nancy Justman, Tina Hochstaetter, Richard Cammack, Bob Miller and Tonnie Schmidt.
Newly-elected West Bend School Board member, who ran as a conservative, is anti-choice.
“I am concerned that it is going to reduce the amount of programs and quality of the public schools,” said Tiffany Larson, West Bend School Board member. “I want public tax dollars used for public schools,” she said.
This is noteworthy because I don’t believe it is something she revealed when running for office. School Choice was addressed at more than one candidate forum. She did not indicate her opposition at the one I attended and I can’t find any indication that she did in the reports of the others. And when I interviewed her, I specifically asked her about School Choice. She said that School Choice worked for Milwaukee and didn’t express any opposition to it for West Bend.
Yet, here she is with a pretty standard liberal stance against School Choice.
On another note, the news story itself is quite skewed. It’s the story of a private grade school in Jackson joining the Wisconsin School Choice Program. In the article, the reporter manages to find three people to quote who oppose school choice (Larson, Tanya Lohr, and Paul Nelson), but not a single person who supports School Choice. That’s interesting in a community that has shown significant support for School Choice for years.
My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
The West Bend School District is searching for a superintendent. Whoever gets the job has some big shoes to fill and some challenges to tackle. We should be as concerned about why a good superintendent would choose West Bend as we are about the School Board choosing a good superintendent.
The School Board has engaged a search company to recruit a superintendent in the wake of Ted Neitzke’s resignation. The application is already available and online. The plan is to stop collecting applications at the end of April, select candidates May 16, conduct interviews and choose a superintendent June 9 for a start date of July 1. As outlined, it is a fairly aggressive schedule.
The School Board has a lot of work to do to decide what they want to see in a new superintendent. Do they want someone from inside or outside of the district? Do they want someone looking to make radical changes or continue the current policies? Do they want someone who is an “upand- comer” or someone looking to build a legacy before retirement? Increasingly, districts are also hiring superintendents who come from outside of education like nonprofit or business leaders. Should the School Board consider a candidate without a background in education?
It is a lot to consider. It is the most consequential single decision a school board makes and it is a difficult decision to reverse if they make a bad one. Unfortunately, the School Board, through no fault of their own, is beginning its recruitment a little late in the year. The best results for recruiting a superintendent tend to happen when the search begins in January. Many of the truly superior superintendents on the market have already accepted positions. That is not to say that there are not still great candidates available, but the pool is smaller than it was four months ago.
But as the School Board considers the candidates who apply, the candidates will also be considering the West Bend School District. Good people — especially talented executives with the ability to lead an organization the size of the West Bend School District — have options. Why would a super super choose to lead the West Bend School District?
The West Bend School District is the 19th largest district in the state. It resides in a conservative county of mostly middleclass families. The business community is diverse and has a good working partnership with the school district. The students also have access to the University of Wisconsin-Washington County and Moraine Park Technical College, which are located in the district.
Within the district itself, a superintendent has a lot to work with. The School Board and outgoing superintendent built a blossoming charter school, 4K program, online education initiative, performing arts center, popular walk-in clinic for employees and data-driven management tools. The district’s employee-turnover rate is lower than other districts in the area and considerably lower than the national average. The parents and community are, for the most part, active and engaged.
The district is not without problems. There is a vicious and growing problem with heroin and other drugs. Test scores are not where they need to be. And much like many other enterprises in America, there are continuing upward pressures on costs like healthcare with downward pressures on revenue.
But the most pressing problem with the district right now is cultural. There is a small but vocal contingent of teachers, parents and agitators who have chosen to take a very personal and nasty approach to change advocacy. While some of their complaints about things like too many standardized tests are legitimate, their continued spreading of false characterizations about things like teacher turnover, open enrollment and district policies only serve to paint a negative picture of the district that does not exist.
Furthermore, their chosen tactic to personally pillory those with whom they disagree has been reprehensible. The virulent glee with which some members of our community celebrated the departures of Neitzke and School Board President Randy Marquardt on social media and in the newspaper does not speak well for West Bend. Consider how potential applicants for the superintendent’s job would recoil at the venom spat at his or her predecessor.
While it is good to be anxious about the School Board choosing the right candidate, the greater worry might just be whether or not the right candidate will choose West Bend. As we consider both sides of the recruitment equation, I urge the School Board to not be pressured to unnecessarily rush a decision. A review of large districts by Learning Point Associates advises that school districts allow up to a full year from the time of vacancy to properly recruit, hire and transition a high-level district employee. West Bend does not need to wait a full year, but neither does it need to hire someone by July 1. If the absolute right candidate is not found in this first pass at recruitment, the School Board should appoint an acting superintendent while they take the time to conduct a more thorough recruitment process. A bad hire can push an organization off the rails for years to come. It is essential that the School Board take the time necessary to find the right candidate.
First off, congratulations to the candidates for all running a good race. What is surprising about the results is that the lefties in the district were pushing for Larson and Donath. The conservatives were pushing for Schmidt and Marquardt. But the results are split, by that measure. On the other hand, Larson ran as a conservative despite which lefties supported her. No doubt she picked off a number of people who wanted a conservative, but were dissatisfied with Marquardt while holding onto the minority liberal vote.
What the results tell me is that the voters definitely wants conservative leadership. Schmidt and Larson both ran as staunch conservatives and Donath ran as an honest liberal. But the voters want a change from Marquardt’s style or direction. Then again, it is a 4-way race where neither of the victors topped 28% of the vote, so don’t read too much into it. In local races, the ground game has a tremendous impact and Larson and Schmidt were both very active.
Congrats to Ken Schmidt and Tiffany Larson. They ran as conservatives. May they govern as conservatives.
There was another forum for the West Bend School Board candidates last night hosted by Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. Randy Marquardt (inc.), Ken Schmidt, and Jenn Donath attended. Tiffany Larson was absent. With the crummy weather and being the day after the other forum, I didn’t expect a huge turnout – and there wasn’t one. About 18 people attended with some of the usual suspects.
I could share my notes, but thankfully, Paula Becker beat me to the punch over on the Washington County Insider. Click through and get a blow by blow recounting of the evening.
Overall, my impressions did not change. Each of the candidates acquitted themselves well in sharing their views and opinions. They each seem like very decent people with the best interests of the students in mind. I did get a shout out from Donath for the column I wrote about Sunshine Week, so thanks for that.
I already took advantage of in person early voting where the folks at the West Bend City Hall were friendly and helpful as always, but election day in April 5th. Be sure to vote!
I attended the vast majority of the school board candidate forum this evening that was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. You can catch the whole thing on the city’s website (when they have it up) and they will air it on the local access channels several times if you want to watch it to form your own opinions. Here are a few thoughts that occurred to me:
- The whole forum was well done. Hats off to the Chamber for putting it on. It was respectful and informative.
- There were about 20 people in attendance with several luminaries from West Bend’s glitterati (ha!) there.
- I realize that I genuinely like all of the candidates. That doesn’t happen for me very often. But they all seem like great people who really want to do well for the school district. I disagree with some of their prescriptions, but their hearts are in the right place.
- 3 of the 4 candidates are Lutherans. I think that only happens in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
- One fact came out about which I was unaware. Teacher pay for the West Bend School District ranks in the top 5% in the state! And Randy Marquardt, the incumbent school board president, said that starting teacher pay is also one of the highest in SE Wisconsin. I didn’t realize we were paying so much. I am curious if that’s truly because West Bend is paying more or if it’s an artifact of an older workforce, which tends to drive up average compensation. As I mentioned in my post about teacher turnover over the weekend, having a healthy amount of turnover that brings in teachers from all age brackets helps keep the overall labor costs in check.
There is another forum tomorrow night at 7:00 PM at the Moose Lodge. It is hosted by the Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. I understand that Tiffany Larson won’t be present, but the other three candidates will. I encourage you to go hear what they have to say if you have the opportunity.
My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:
With only two weeks left until the April 5 election in Wisconsin, we are about to endure a withering political barrage that will not end until that blissful dawn April 6, when all of the presidential politicians, their courtiers and the locustal media move on to the next state. But April 5 is not only the primary election for the presidential nominees, it is also the general election for thousands of local elected offices and for the next justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Those local and state elections tend to have far more impact on our daily lives than the national races.
It is easy to vent one’s spleen at all of the reasons to vote against someone, and there sure are plenty of people to vote against this election season. I prefer to focus on the reasons to vote for someone. There are only three contested elections on my ballot this election. Here is whom I am voting for, and why.
There are four candidates vying for two seats on the West Bend School Board. I will be voting for Randy Marquardt and Ken Schmidt. Marquardt is the only incumbent on the ballot, having first been elected to the school board in 2010, and currently serves as the president of the Board. While I strenuously disagreed with Marquardt regarding the referendum to expand Silverbrook, his accomplishments on the board have been impressive.
Since Marquardt was first elected, the district has managed its facilities so that it is no longer in a constant state of crisis and is, in fact, saving money for the next big building need. The school district has implemented an extremely popular and successful walk-in clinic for employees, begun a charter school, expanded online offerings, added vocational courses and helped guide the district through some tumultuous shifts of educational policy at the state level.
Ken Schmidt is a newcomer to the ballot, but brings a wealth of experience in the community and education. Schmidt is a 36-year resident of the district and is married to a public school teacher. He also served as a member of the Board of Regents for Bethany Lutheran College for 27 years. He espouses a belief in being a good steward of the community’s investment in their schools and wants a systematic review of new curriculum programs and testing regimens to make sure they are improving educational outcomes.
Two candidates are vying for the State Supreme Court. Incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley will be receiving my vote. Bradley was a private attorney for many years before her meteoric rise to the Supreme Court late last year after the untimely death of Justice Patrick Crooks. Having previously served as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge and on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, her rulings were marked by their fairness and strict adherence to what the law is — not what she might think it should be. The fact that her opponents are seeking to smear her with salacious stories instead of attacking her actual performance as a judge is supplemental evidence of the soundness of her judgment. Bradley’s brilliant legal mind and respect for the proper role of a judge makes her the easy choice to keep her seat on the bench.
Both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries are on the ballot in Wisconsin. I will be voting in the Republican primary and happily voting for Sen. Ted Cruz. The senator from Texas is undeniably one of the most intellectually brilliant candidates to ever appear on the ballot. He was the valedictorian of his high school, graduated cum laude from Princeton, magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, national debating champion, clerked for Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist (from Milwaukee) and had a distinguished legal career before winning a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2012 as an insurgent outsider.
Cruz couples his towering intellect with a passionate conservatism that put him at odds with not only the Democrats in the Senate, but with his fellow Republicans whose ideology has slumped to the left. He is ardently anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment, pro-civil rights, pro-fiscal sanity, pro-Constitution and pro-border security. He has a mastery of the important issues facing our country and a conservative plan to address each of them. Cruz would not only make a great Republican candidate, he would make a great president.
As the election season wears on and the narrative fills up with negativity and filth, it must be remembered that behind all of that blather are some truly impressive people whose service would make our communities, state and nation better. In-person absentee voting began yesterday at your local municipal clerk’s office and election day is on April 5. Get out and vote for someone.
This forum takes on a bit of added importance with the announcement that Superintendent Ted Neitzke will be stepping down at the end of the school year. Common Sense Citizens of Washington County is hosting another candidate forum on March 23rd. I’m not sure of the time or location yet, but they are inviting questions from the general public. If you have a question that you would like the candidates to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More to come…
UPDATE: 7 PM at the Moose Lodge.
This turned out about how I expected. I’m happy to see that the two candidates whom I prefer were the top two vote-getters. The race is shaping up a lot like several of the previous races. Without the candidates necessarily intending it, the race is splitting into a conservative ticket (Marquardt and Schmidt) and a liberal ticket (Larson and Donath). Unfortunately, Miller was left as the odd man out without a constituency backing him. I hope it doesn’t dissuade him from trying again in the future because he has a lot to offer.
Given that Miller is a conservative guy, I would have to expect most of his supporters will to go Marquardt and Schmidt. BUT, the general election will be an entirely different ball game. At 18.25%, voter turnout was higher in this race than it was in many other areas of the state, but it was still quite low. The April 5th general election ballot will also include the presidential primary. The last presidential primary election saw a turnout of 40% in Washington County, but that election wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it is this year – particularly on the Democratic side. That fact, coupled with the general election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, will likely push turnout even higher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a turnout of 50%-60% in this county. If that’s the case, then less than half of the people who will vote in the general election voted in the primary.
In Washington County, high turnout elections favor candidates who identify as conservatives. Whichever candidates can fix themselves in the electorate’s mind as a conservative will likely win a school board seat. We’ll see how it goes.
Not wishing to set a precedent, members of the West Bend School Board voted Monday night to deny a request by residents in the Strawberry Glen subdivision to detach from the district.
The subdivision is at the far southeast end of the district, north of Highway 60 in the town of Jackson, on the border of Washington and Ozaukee counties. Of the 44 families in the subdivision, 34 signed a petition asking for detachment in hopes of attaching to the Cedarburg School District.
Mike Shaw, who organized the petition, told the board during Monday’s public hearing that “staying in the West Bend School District results in our kids spending approximately 402 hours more on a bus over the course of their childhood.”
Shaw said of the 51 children in the subdivision, 40 of them want to attend the Cedarburg School District. The remaining 11 preferred to remain in the West Bend district.
The district would, however, feel a fiscal effect. It would lose more than $12 million in property taxes if Strawberry Glen was allowed to detach.
This is essentially a math problem. This subdivision is rather affluent and generates a lot of property taxes – more taxes than the cost of educating the kids in the subdivision. If they go to the Cedarburg district, it will cost the district. Even if the 40 kids that they say want to go to Cedarburg do so through open enrollment, it’s still a cash positive arrangement for the West Bend School District.
This does highlight something that I’ve been discussing for years. Many people have been critical of the West Bend School District because it has been losing more kids through open enrollment than it has been taking in. They characterize this as a indicator that the quality of the district has declined to where families are opting out. But the exit interviews and anecdotal information about the families who choose open enrollment to leave the district indicate that the most common reason is that a neighboring district is more convenient for the family.
The West Bend School District is a geographically large district. As such, some families on the edges of the district find it more convenient to go to the schools that are closer to them – even if those schools are in a neighboring district. That’s the case here. Many folks in the Strawberry Glen subdivision find it more convenient and in sync with their lives to send their kids to Cedarburg than West Bend.
Perhaps it is time to consider shrinking the geographic footprint of the West Bend School District. The far flung district made more sense when the population of Washington County was smaller, but as population centers shift, maybe it doesn’t make as much sense as it used to.
My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Please note that there is a factual error in the column. I identified Kris Beaver as the treasurer for Tiffany Larson when, in fact, he is the treasurer for Jenn Donath. I rearranged the column a couple of times before sending it in and that fact got mixed up. That’s the explanation, but it’s no excuse. I apologize to Tiffany Larson for the error.
There are five candidates running for two seats on the West Bend School Board this spring. On Feb. 16, the voters will narrow the field to four candidates, with the two winners being elected April 5. Voters in the school district are fortunate to have a relatively varied group of candidates.
Before we whittle down our choices, each of the candidates deserves a hearty “thank you” for being willing to serve on the school board. Though not without rewards, serving on a school board is a time-consuming, frustrating and often thankless job. Those who are willing to step up in service to their community are to be commended, even if they do not win the opportunity to do so. I enjoyed meeting with each of the candidates and hearing their passion for our school district.
As the only incumbent on the ballot, Randy Marquardt knows full well what public service entails. Marquardt has been a member of the School Board since 2010 and currently serves as the board president. Marquardt’s leadership has been commendable. Under his leadership, the West Bend School District has opened an on-site clinic for staff and teachers that has helped control the district’s health care costs while providing a popular service for the district’s employees.
During Marquardt’s tenure, the district has also opened the Pathways Charter School, started a 4K program, expanded Silverbrook Intermediate School, expanded vocational offerings and much more. Perhaps most impressive is the news we no longer hear. When Marquardt first ran for School Board, the district’s facilities were in a constant state of crisis due to previous board decisions to defer major maintenance needs. These recurring crises prompted multiple referendum requests that drove community division. Marquardt ran on a promise to address the district’s facilities issues and has delivered on that promise. Maintenance is no longer being deferred and the district is even setting aside money every year for the eventual replacement of Jackson Elementary without need for another referendum.
Marquardt’s consistent conservative leadership has earned him another term on the school board.
The remaining four candidates are running for School Board for the first time. Jenn Donath is a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and frequent parent volunteer at McLane Elementary. Donath is a member of the steering committee for the recently formed Benders for Better Public Education group. She considers teacher morale and poor communication to be some of the biggest issues in the district. Donath proudly defends her decision to sign the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker and ardently opposes School Choice. Donath’s views on education and the district’s priorities stray too far from my own to earn my vote.
Tiffany Larson was compelled to run for the School Board after her husband, Ron Larson, was not selected for the East girls basketball varsity coaching job he wanted last year. In the wake of that decision, Ron Larson resigned as West Bend East’s junior varsity boys basketball coach and Booster Club president — presumably in protest. Tiffany Larson considers the hiring process to be a symptom of a flawed decision-making process by the district’s administration that opened a crack in the door for her School Board candidacy.
Like Donath, Larson considers the most pressing issues in the district to be teacher morale and a failure of the district’s leadership to address that morale. She is heavily supported by the Benders for Better Public Education group and other prominent liberals in the community — including the liberal former board member Kris Beaver, who serves as her campaign’s treasurer. As with Donath, Larson is too liberal to earn my vote.
The final two candidates offer a conservative choice for voters but come from different perspectives. Bob Miller is a 1995 graduate of West Bend West with kids in the district. As selfprofessed band geek who loves driving the bus for West Bend’s band, Miller’s priority is to keep the district moving in the positive direction of the past few years. He supports a diversified educational offering, including technical and mechanical opportunities, and wants to bring social workers back into the district by reprioritizing spending.
Ken Schmidt is a 36-year resident of the district and husband of a public school teacher. With a Masters in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and 27 years as a member of the Board of Regents for Bethany Lutheran College, Schmidt’s priorities are to improve educational outcomes through a systematic review of the curriculum programs and testing regimens utilized by the district, continue to put away money for future building needs, and encourage parent and employee input. Schmidt believes in being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars and first became active with the school district because of concerns for the financial management of the district.
While Miller and Schmidt are both solid conservative choices, my second vote will go to Schmidt. His greater experience with oversight of an educational institution and focus on fiscal discipline tipped the scale for me.
The only other election on the ballot for most people in the West Bend School District is the primary for Supreme Court Justice, in which incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley is the clear conservative choice. In-person absentee voting is available until Friday. Please take a few minutes and vote to keep the West Bend School Board moving in the right direction.
Tomorrow my column will run regarding the election for the West Bend School Board. Before it goes up, I have to get this off my chest because it’s been bugging me for a couple of weeks now. Here is a question and the candidates’ answers from the forum hosted by Concerned Citizens as recorded on Washington County Insider:
Q, is it important for public school board members to enroll their own students in the district?
a) TL, absolutely, you can best represent everyone
b) RM, it depends, if you want to send your student to parochial, then that shouldn’t preclude you from running
c) BM, yes they should be in the district
d) KS, can go both ways. Yes, it can be an advantage, but if they’re not, there could be richness of experience that is brought to the board
e) JD, prefer yes students in the district, it shows you believe in the product, you are more invested.
In preparation for my column, I met with each of the candidates and asked them all about their response. Unfortunately, due to space limitations, none of it made it into the column. The notion that school board members’ kids must attend the district’s schools betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the school board.
A public school district is an institution of the community for the benefit of the entire community. This is why we all pay taxes to support it despite the fact that most of the people in the community do not have kids attending the schools. We all support the local public school district because everyone in the community benefits from the education provided.
The school board is the community’s oversight organ of their school district. It is supposed to provide direction and oversight of the school district on behalf of the community who elect the school board members. The school board exists to represent the community. It is not an advocacy organization for the students, teachers, parents, administration, or any specific stakeholder group. As such, it is perfectly right and proper for school board members to come from all slices of the community including retirees whose kids are grown, people without any kids, people with kids in private school, people who home school their kids, and yes, people with kids in the district. The ideal school board has a diverse group of people representing the diversity of the community.
To say that school board members should put their kids in the district to demonstrate that they have “skin in the game” is insulting and wrong.