My weekly column for the Daily News is up. It’s a purely West Bend issue.
High school or high schools?
Combining West Bend’s East and West is the sensible option
Almost since the inception of West Bend’s two high schools was established on one campus in 1970, there has been a push to combine them into a single school. That debate is upon us again. The West Bend School Board is considering the issue again and is tentatively planning to make the decision at its Oct. 6 meeting.
The reasons for putting two high schools in a single campus in 1970 were sensible. It was designed to allow for modular scheduling and the more personal feel of a smaller school while taking advantages of the efficiencies of sharing facilities.
Over time, the inevitable melding of the two schools has happened. In order to ensure a consistent education for all of West Bend’s kids, the education departments have been merged. The administrations have been combined under a single principal. There is one band. One drama department. One choir. At this point, the only thing that is still separate and distinct is the athletic departments.
In making a decision like this, the arguments boil down to three major points. First, will combining the schools improve or detract from the education of the children? Given that everything except athletics are already combined, it appears that the quality of education will be unaffected either way. It is a neutral outcome.
Second, will combining the schools be more or less costly for the taxpayers? The projections are that it will cost a one-time charge of about $150,000 to change the school’s branding and purchase new uniforms if the schools are combined. Ongoing, however, it would save about $200,000 per year mostly from the reduction in the number of athletic staff required. The school district administration is strongly recommending that any savings be plowed back into the athletic department, but that is a choice for the school board. The savings are there to be had.
In addition, there are already unmet needs accumulating in the athletic department that will require additional funding in years to come. Combining the schools would provide some funding for those needs without asking the taxpayers for more money.
At this point, it looks like combining the schools will provide the same education for less money. That is an easy decision to make.
Before making a change like this, however, the third question to ask it, why change? The two-school system has been successful for 44 years. There are generations of alumni who have a history and pride in being a Sun or a Trojan. These are not factors to be ignored.
The reasons to change are as sensible as the reasons were for having two high schools in the first place. Combining the schools would save the taxpayers money while not harming education. In addition, the revamped athletics department would have more funds available to maintain facilities and possibly offer more athletic opportunities like lacrosse or men’s volleyball. There is some speculation that the combined schools may also be able to field more competitive teams that might bring home some championships, but that is for the future to tell.
As for the history and tradition of the Suns and Spartans, it is a legacy worth honoring, but it is no reason to impede progress. Schools are combined, split, opened, and closed all of the time. The perception is that it will be traumatic, and it is at the time, but the space of a little time reveals that the pain is fleeting and quickly heals. The generation that attended high school as a West Bend Badger can attest to that. Should the School Board combine the high schools, there will be just as much pride and support for the one high school as there was for the two.
All things considered, the most sensible course of action is to combine the high schools.
Irrespective of the decision eventually reached, it is also worth evaluating the process. Some have complained that the school board is rushing to judgment with an arbitrary Oct. 6 decision date. The reason for the October date is simple. If the decision is made to combine the high schools, the planning to implement it next year will take some time. Of course, there is no reason that the decision cannot be delayed another year. No harm would be done in waiting to allow more time for public input.
At the same time, there is little to be gained in waiting. This is an issue that has been debated and vetted for literally generations of Benders. It is exceedingly unlikely that any new arguments or any new information will be advanced in six months as opposed to one month. West Bend would be better served by going ahead and making a decision one way or the other instead of dragging it out for months on end.
There are four scheduled feedback sessions, a couple of School Board meetings, and about three weeks in which to call or write the School Board members before Oct. 6. Make use of them.
(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)