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.