I attended the work session of the West Bend School Board this evening. The topic of conversation was the possibility of combining West Bend’s two high schools into one. There were about 20 other people attending. The work session does not allow for public input, so it was just the board members and school staff speaking.
The stated objective of the meeting was not to debate the issue itself, but to establish a process for making a decision. Of course, some discussion about the issue itself did occur, but I’ll get to that in a little bit.
The process will be as follow:
- There will be four structured listening sessions. As I understand it, the format for these will be for the administration to present the facts and options under consideration. After that, the attendees will break out into small discussion groups and provide written survey responses at the end. They have used this format before. The four listening sessions will be:
September 16th – 6:30 pm – Silverbrook
September 17th – 7:30 am – School Board Room
September 25th – 7:30 am – School Board Room
September 29th – 6:30 pm – Silverbrook
- Public feedback about the issue will be heard at the regularly scheduled board meeting on September 22nd.
- The board plans to debate and vote on the issue at the October 6th meeting.
- An online survey will be released shortly. It will ask for some demographic information, one’s opinion on the issue, and will be restricted to one submission per IP address.
- Postcards will go out to district residents at the end of the week with some information about the process.
- Source information with facts relevant to the decision will be placed on the district’s website.
The board will present three options for the public to consider.
Option 1: Status Quo
The status quo is… the status quo. The district has already sought a change in conferences. They are looking to compete with schools closer to home. The district is also struggling to find funding to support the needs of athletics, so if this option is chosen the board will have to consider how to provide more resources.
Option 2: Choice
This is admittedly an option that had not been floated before. Essentially, it would be to offer some choice between the high schools.
Right now, residents do not have a choice of which high school they attend. It is determined by the birthday of the oldest kid in the family. School staff members can choose, but not the general public.
This option would offer some choice. 100 8th graders would be allowed to choose which high school they want. Kids after the 100 would be chosen via a lottery instead of by birthday. The choice would be just for the kid and not all of his or her siblings too.
Over time, this could lead to one high school being bigger than the other with each school providing a different educational experience.
Option 3: One High School
This option would be to combine the high schools. If this is done, it would start in the 2015/2016 school year. The athletic staff configuration would be determined in December with all positions posted. The consolidation of athletics would allow for the consideration of addition more sports like lacrosse, cycling, and men’s volleyball.
The consolidation of the high school athletic programs would save an estimated $200,000 per year. It would cost a one time amount of about $150,000 to change the branding and buy new uniforms, etc. The superintendent emphasized that the savings to be had by this option would be retained in the athletics budget to pay for some needs there.
The limited amount of debate on the issues were driven primarily by Bart Williams who expressed several arguments against combining the high schools and the process.
It was made clear that the decision to combine the high schools or not is almost completely an athletic one. The academic areas of the schools are already combined. So are things lime the band, theater, choir, etc. The only things that are separated are the sports teams. All of the savings to be had by combining the schools would come from reducing the number of coaches and staff needed to support two of every team.
Bart Williams brought up at the meeting that consideration should also be given to 45 years of tradition and alumni that are also separate.
There was also a lot of debate about the process. There is less than a month until the board is trying to make a decision and there is debate as to whether or not that is enough time for community education and input. Also, there was debate as to whether or not the board should hold an advisory referendum before taking a vote. Bart Williams expressed concerns that the decision was being rushed or rammed through.
First about the process… I think the process is fine. It feels a little cramped, but the reality is that this issue has been debated for decades. I doubt that any new arguments can be offered if we wait another year for input. In the end, it will always be a board decision. Any referendum would only be advisory. The survey and community sessions will provide ample feedback for the board to consider. I suspect that it will show what it has shown for years – the community is divided on this issue. And then the board members will have to make a decision one way or another. Personally, although the survey is open to more fraud voting than an actual referendum, it will also provide a lot more information about who wants what. That input should be more valuable for the board to consider.
On the issue itself, let’s look at the options. The option for choice is rather silly to me. It introduces an arbitrary limit of 100 kids and doesn’t really solve or do anything – other than give 100 kids a choice every year. It introduces a lot more problems where coaches and staff will be enticed to recruit, community strife when the 101st kid doesn’t get the choice he or she wants, and a shifting imbalance between the schools. Let’s take that one off the table.
Between the other two choices, my decision matrix is this:
As you can see, I don’t put a lot of weight in the alumni/tradition/school pride thing. Perhaps it is because I’ve been through this. When I was a senior in High School my hometown split into two. Sure, there was a little consternation about the split, but students were more concerned about having a closed campus for lunch. Over 20+ years later, I couldn’t care less. Public schools are utilitarian and the brief wounds of pride that occur when schools open or close heal quickly, and are forgotten soon.
So it appears that combining the schools will not affect education at all. The educational areas of the school are already combined and won’t be affected. In athletics, it appears that combining the schools will allow the school to offer a greater variety of sports that will give kids more options.
On the financial side, combining the schools is clearly a savings. The administration is recommending that the saving be plowed back into the athletics budget and that may be the most prudent course. Still, the savings are there and it is up to the board to decide what to do with them.
We will see what other information may come out in the next month, but none of the information presented to date has changed since we seriously debated this the last time in 2007 or so. I’m leaning toward combining the high schools.
Let the debate begin.