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0649, 15 May 18

Liberal West Bend School Board targets November for $80 million referendum

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

As the West Bend School Board continues to search for a new superintendent after the unfortunate departure of the previous one, it is also aggressively following the liberal playbook to bamboozle the taxpayers into approving a new, massive, $80 million (plus interest) spending referendum. While every one of the school board members ran for office on a platform of conservatism and transparency, their governing is indistinguishable from the arrogant liberal school boards in Milwaukee or Madison.

Since Act 10, the liberals in Wisconsin have fought for more spending and stumbled upon a process to get school spending referendums passed that plays on the fears and best intentions of goodhearted people. The West Bend School Board is following that process and looking to take advantage of the projected “Blue Wave” in November to get more money from district taxpayers.

First, the School Board created the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year with a strong majority of members who were already convinced of the need to spend more money. The only questions were “on what” and “how much?” The board hired a company based in Milwaukee called Bray Architects to run the CFAC meetings. Bray brags on its website about the expensive building projects funded by referendums it helped get passed.

Bray did its job for the board and ran a rigid CFAC process that would only lead to the outcome that the board had predetermined. In one unguarded moment, the Bray facilitator admitted that “the decision to build a new Jackson school was made in the prior efforts.” The taxpayers of West Bend would be surprised to know the decision to build a new school was already made. When the facilitator was asked by a CFAC member about why they were even bothering with the committee, he answered, “because we need to help the community understand why a new Jackson is being considered.” In other words, CFAC was a sham propaganda tool from the beginning — not an actual advisory committee. Recent events confirm that conclusion.

After the bogus CFAC process, the School Board is taking the next step of spending $35,000 of our money to conduct a sham survey. The board pretends that the survey is going to be used to gauge public support for areferendum. The survey is a propaganda tool used to build support and, like CFAC, has a predetermined outcome.

The West Bend School Board has hired SchoolPerceptions to conduct the survey. A recent column

by Mark Belling exposed School Perceptions for the propaganda machine it is. Instead of conducting an objective survey that is honestly seeking answers, “the whole point of School Perceptions is to influence opinion through framing questions,” Belling writes.

The upcoming survey in West Bend will not be any different. It is telling that while asking respondents about a list of projects, there will not be an option to just say “no.” The West Bend School Board has decided to intentionally spend taxpayer money to conduct a propaganda effort under the guise of a survey with the intent to sell a spending referendum. It is a shameless act of liberal activism at taxpayers’ expense.

It is worth noting that while the West Bend School Board members are intent on jacking up spending and taxes, the transparency that constituents have enjoyed with previous boards has muddied. Many meetings are no longer recorded, meeting minutes are missing from the district’s website, the use of special and closed sessions has become the norm and many agenda items appeared to have been already discussed and decided before the public meetings. This School Board has made a practice of obscuring their actions from public view.

Furthermore, when I have repeatedly asked the elected school board members to comment on issues for more than a year, the only member of the School Board who has ever responded was Ken Schmidt. Every other Board member has refused to respond — including the two who were just elected. This is a sharp departure from previous years where even the most liberal School Board members were willing to chat with me over a cup of coffee. Elected officials have a duty to speak with their constituents. It is part of the job. Sadly, most of the members of the West Bend School Board lack the sense of duty or humility that good public service requires.

West Bend is proud of our conservatism and proud of our public schools. The School Board is failing our public schools by failing to govern as the conservatives they professed to be. Before they come hat in hand for another $80 million to spend, they need to get their house in order and rebuild the public trust that they have squandered.



0649, 15 May 2018


  1. Monte

    When the talk was about $40 million, it was said that taxes would not have to go up. This would require postponing debt payments and increasing the amount of interest ultimately paid. I can’t imagine what an $80 million debt would cost in this scenario. Perhaps they have forsaken the idea of not raising taxes. Not raising taxes would also push the debt far into the future and create a roadblock for future projects.

    The board seems to be ignoring Policy 616, Disclosure of Financing and Total Costs of All Referenda, which requires informing the public about these:

    1. The total principal dollar amount.
    2. The total dollar amount of the interest expense of the borrowing.
    3. The total dollar amount of the referendum, including all principal, interest, and other (e.g., brokerage, bond issuance) costs.
    4. All major assumptions and factors used to arrive at item #3 above (e.g., the interest rate used, term/duration (years) of the bonds, etc.).

    This policy doesn’t speak to surveys, but, if the board were to be transparent, it would be making full disclosure.

    Some people should attend those off-camera meetings.


  2. jjf

    Elected officials have a duty to speak with their constituents. It is part of the job. Sadly, most of the members of the West Bend School Board lack the sense of duty or humility that good public service requires.

    If only we could hold Walker and Ryan to that standard.

    Of course, not all constituents will reframe coffee conversations within their preconceived notions and post them on a blog.

  3. Mark Hoefert

    JJFoust said:  If only we could hold Walker and Ryan to that standard.

    Don’t know if that is an applicable comparison to make – Governor & US Congressman constituent relations versus elected officials that serve at a local level.

    I would compare this more to a local citizen blogger trying to get information from the officials of a local economic development organization who are trying to play things very close to their vests.

    As it is, seems as if the WBSD is very much into message control – will only facilitate communications that result in a positive spin.  Anyone else threatening that strategy will be frozen out.

    Will be interesting to see if that strategy backfires when they come hat in hand for a tax increase to support a referendum.


  4. jjf

    Ryan certainly has a direct constituency. Walker, I can understand what you’re saying. But both are now well-known for avoiding direct contact with the public, and only appear before audiences of vetted supporters.

    I’m not sure why Owen is so worked up about a survey. It’s a piece of the puzzle. It gives some numbers. It’s not a referendum in itself. It doesn’t make a decision.

    Don’t like decisions that have been pre-discussed? For the school board, many topics have probably been covered in some smaller committee that is also public.

    It’s not like we’re dealing with the state legislature and the caucus system.


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