Around the Bend by Judy Steffes

$74 million referendum total for West Bend School District  

The West Bend School Board set the initial resolution for the April 2, 2019 referendum question at $47 million. The true cost with interest at about 4.25 percent, according to Robert W. Baird & Co., will bring the total to $74 million which includes $27 million in interest.

Following a presentation by Baird’s John Mehan and the district’s Tim Stellmacher the board discussed how the referendum sat with them.

Board member Ken Schmidt felt $74 million was a lot to ask for.

“I’m one who knows about history and there are cycles in our economy and those cycles are impacted by elections,” said Schmidt. “If we get other administrations who decide they are going to create a negative business climate that’s going to impact our economy and what happens to jobs, it’s also going to impact what happens to the valuation of property. We saw that in 2007 and property values went down. One of the reasons we’ve got phenomenal property values is we have a super-great economy on steroids. Wages are going up we can’t find enough workers for all the jobs. That can turn around and that’s what I’m concerned about. I’m concerned about a cycle like that and the West Bend taxpayer ends up with not such a rosy picture. I also have a problem with the present proposal and it’s really being overbuilt, considering the projections of declining enrollment. I really wonder if we’re doing the wisest thing in the world. I have some grave concerns.”

Board member Joel Ongert spoke about not including interest on the referendum question. “The first step in the referendum process is to pass the initial resolution. Parameters on what is to be included in the initial resolution are set forth in section 67.05 of the Wisconsin state statue to include the purpose and the maximum principal amount of the bond issued,” he said. “I’ve reached out to Quarles and Brady and the attorney I spoke with they said they’ve never included interest in the referendum questions.”

Taking a look at the current referendums the West Bend School District is paying off….

In April 2009, voters in West Bend approved a $29.3 million plan to renovate, as well as build an addition to Badger Middle School.

In November 2012 the West Bend School District passed a $22.8 million referendum to close Barton Elementary School, expand Silverbrook School and add classrooms and a gym at Green Tree Elementary School. The actual total cost of the referendum with taxes and interest was $31.975 million with a 15-year payback on borrowing.

After the Nov. 2012 referendum passed the $31.9 million total was added on top of the $29.3 million payment for the 2009 Badger referendum.

According to Mehan “as of January 14, 2019 the District has principal debt outstanding” including $29,420,000 from Fund 39 referendum and Fund 38 non-referendum approved debt of $5,011,000.

The target date to completely pay off the current debt on referendums is 2028.

Cobbling together the outstanding debt of $34,431,000 plus the proposed referendum and interest of $74 million the total, if approved it would bring, the West Bend School District debt on referendums to $108,431,000. Mehan said the $74 million debt would run 19 years.

Prior to the board discussion on referendum total of $74 million a woman from West Bend spoke during the public presentation portion of the meeting about the referendum topic.

“What is the total cost with interest and secondly I have friends and family in real estate and they admit there is a declining interest in living in Jackson, which is part of this referendum cost. One of the things is there is a decline in the birth rate but also families with young children who have concerns about the 55,000 gallon gasoline spill in 2012. People with young children don’t have much interest when they can buy homes in surrounding areas because they have concerns about that gas spill.

“Also what is the plan. A plan for that money, where is it going? A plan for the school in Jackson a plan for the remodel of the schools. Will that remodel include transgender bathrooms, transgender locker rooms. What is the plan for those things,” said the woman.

Following the public speaking portion of the meeting board member Nancy Justman instructed the superintendent to get the woman who spoke a copy of the plan. On Thursday, Jan. 17  Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said there is no plan available yet. Kirkegaard said it is expected to be completed in the “next week or two.”

WBSD plans to eliminate Pathways in West Bend

Parents and students lined up at Monday night’s West Bend School Board meeting to express their displeasure about the district’s plan to possibly eliminate Pathways Charter School.

According to documentation posted on the School District site a recommendation will be made for Pathways to be eliminated.

Diana Swillinger, a parent of four children in the district, sits on the Pathways Governance Council. She was direct and disappointed questioning a lack of transparency in numbers and “misplaced priorities, a lack of vision, disinterest in the needs of the students, and a knee-jerk reaction to a struggling budget.”

Diana Swillinger comments to school board, January 14, 2019

Good evening. I am Diana Swillinger. A parent of 4 children in this district and a Pathways Governance Council member.

I have a small amount of time to say a lot, so I will not mince words, I will read right from my statement and speak as fast as I can. Please know I say all of this with the utmost respect for the board. I appreciate your service.

I had intended today to share my opinion about the future of Pathways, and I will, however, I would like to address a concern first.

Late Friday afternoon, the district presented the school board with a report of Pathways, created by a lone critic from Black and Associates. The Governance Council was told when the evaluation happened that it was to inform Pathways’ accountability plan and were not told it would be shared outside of that purpose. The evaluation period was in the 2017-2018 school year, yet the results were not shared with Pathways staff or Governance Council in any written form. Ever. We were introduced to the document only when it was shared with you, just one business day before the Superintendent–who to the best of my knowledge and in my opinion, has not completed his own observation and evaluation of Pathways–is likely to recommend a discontinuation of the contract.

In the kindest terms we could call this move strategic and clever. But when we consider the impact it will have on the educational, vocational, and developmental journey of real children, real students… our children… this move could be seen as manipulative and self-serving. At best, this is not something I would use as an example to share with my own children to demonstrate good business, good politics, or good will. I find the lack of disclosure with Pathways staff and governance council and last-minute exposure to the board disappointing and discouraging.

Now to my original comments:

Pathways has produced a plethora of positive results as you heard testimony to in December. To discontinue the partnership with Pathways would be to displace dozens of students from the rigorous and unique education they credit for their success and it would be a mistake–a mistake based on an incompatible, formulaic report card that is skewed on many levels as has been previously addressed. 

I am a fiscally responsible person, I have seen the budget for Pathways, and in the grand scheme of the district spending, it really is a drop in the bucket. To eliminate the partnership based on money, would be a disproportionate reaction to the value it provides to the many students who’ve attended there and are yet to attend.

As the world starts to embrace the reality that students in neat rows of desks with one-size-fits-all education under serves our children and their future, Pathways is leading the way. This school started with an innovative and courageous dream… please tell me you aren’t ready to quit that dream. We are just getting started.  

Please tell me you won’t quit because we hit a couple obstacles. What will we tell the kids if the contract to the only school that has awakened their desire to learn isn’t renewed? “Sorry kids, we hit a snag in the budget and the state report card doesn’t accurately display the amazing things happening here and in your life, so we quit.“

For much of Pathways existence, the district administration has taken little interest. And now their interest seems to only lie in the obstacles while paying little attention to the successes and not embracing the incredible character development and educational journey of the students…. the things that don’t fit into standardized reports and spreadsheets. 

If the contract isn’t renewed it will be viewed by many as misplaced priorities, a lack of vision, disinterest in the needs of the students, and a knee-jerk reaction to a struggling budget.

If the contract is renewed it will be viewed by many as an investment in the future of an amazing and creative population of students, the ingenuity of education, rigor of studies, and evolving path of education.  Thank you.

Chelsea Doman Davis, a parent of four, from Jackson also spoke to the board and wondered what prompted the decision to close if money and preparing students for college isn’t the issue.

Good evening Board members and fellow parents. My name is Chelsea Doman Davis. I live in Jackson …. Last month I talked as a parent of four children in the district and shared my very personal reasons for needing the charter at Pathways to be renewed. Tonight, I again have skipped my own PTO meeting to address you but as a concerned citizen and outside of the emotion of how my family would directly be adversely affected by the dissolution of Pathways Charter School.

I have several points I hope the Board will consider in this matter.

First, the Charter School provides options, which is a choice we value in Wisconsin.

Other school districts in the area have launched or are launching similar efforts, such as the Riveredge Outdoor Learning School in neighboring Northern Ozaukee School District. By removing options here, you are encouraging families to go elsewhere. The Revenue Limit here has been negatively impacted in the past due to students attending other districts.

At Pathways, the students have to engage in the learning process. They drive it. My eighth grader recently protested when his father told him to think creatively about a problem at home because he gets too much practice. He said, “At my school it’s all about working creatively.”

This student-led learning and innovation should be SPREADING to other classrooms, not fighting to stay alive. As you know, the vision of the West Bend School District is to prepare all students for college readiness AND career success. Pathways supports this vision more fully than the other options in the upper grades.

Second, Charter schools are a really great thing.

Stanford University recently conducted a survey of charter schools in 41 urban areas around the nation. Their findings showed that the typical charter school student accumulated 40 additional days’ worth of learning in math and 28 days of reading than their peers in traditional classrooms. Over the four-year study, positive results increased.

This school hasn’t been given enough of a chance. It opened for grades 7-10 in 2013 and added a class per year until the start of the 2015 school year. In other words, it is only in its fourth school year serving all of the intermediate and secondary grades. By dissolving this school while it’s gaining momentum, you’re cutting off the experiment much too soon.

Additionally, why hasn’t the school district promoted Pathways?

At this point, there shouldn’t be any parent who doesn’t know about the school and yet I repeatedly explain the vision of Pathways to parents I meet at the library and the baseball diamond and school drop off and museums and community events. When I talk about the career readiness, the community involvement, and project-based approach, everyone is interested in the affordable alternative to traditional classrooms.

I question what the issue really is here.

It can’t be a money issue because the Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) of the District has increased 4 years in a row, and the tax rates for education have decreased. The S&P rating for the district is commendable AA. Last year’s budget promised no reduction in programming and courses, so what has changed. As Superintendent Kirkegaard explained in a November meeting, the District has the lowest debt ratio when compared to the surroundings areas.

So if money is not the problem and you want families to have choices within the District, it seems renewing the charter is an obvious decision. Thank you.

Jennie Duller from Germantown and her son Austin, who graduated from Pathways, also spoke Monday night.

Austin said, “I would still be in high school now if it wasn’t for the change of pace, change in thinking and most importantly, because of the coaches.  Because of Pathways I was able to complete my freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year and graduate on time, over the next 3 years. I was able to acquire skills that have helped me in the workplace, as well as create a plan for after high school now.”

Duller echoed those thoughts. “I guarantee there are many students out there that would benefit from this program, parents that want the best education possible for their students. Pathways was the best thing that could have come along for us.”

Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded to parents by apologizing for not making public the independent audit on Pathways. “I made some assumptions I should not of,” he said.

Kirkegaard then said the decision on whether to go forward was to review the purpose of Pathways and whether it is meeting the goal.

Kirkegaard then reviewed five elements including cost, enrollment, student performance, anticipated change in location, and the independent audit.

Kirkegaard mentioned the successful Charter programs at Kettle Moraine High School.

Kirkegaard mentioned how there were three Charter programs all located in the high school. “They have a phenomenal program,” he said. “Their program is more spelled out in each particular area.”

“Immediately we need to make sure to address all of the concerns of people in Pathways,” he said.

As far as location at Badger School or the high school. “We can make that happen at either school,” said Kirkegaard. “It will require some time and effort but the space is available especially as we look at some declining enrollments going forward.”

Board member Nancy Justman asked for a work session to have a conversation. Board member Joel Ongert said he wanted the board work session to direct it to the teachers.

Scheduling of that work session is underway and the board hopes to have a final decision on the future of Pathways Charter School at its meeting Jan. 28.

After the meeting parent Jennie Duller said, “I feel like it is true that the school district has failed Pathways. They really need to take a step back and gather all of the facts before making a final decision and not operate based off of assumptions that had been preconceived. I am very happy to hear that they will be doing just that next week and meeting with school officials and teachers. I believe from what I heard this evening that here is hope for Pathways to continue on after this year.”

Doman Davis said she felt disappointed. “I was proud of the way the students from Pathways advocated for themselves, and I thought the testimonials from the other parents were inspiring. I am deeply discouraged that the Board appears to not be moved by the very real and long-lasting impact this will have on so many families. I moved to the West Bend area specifically for my oldest child to attend Pathways. If Pathways is closed, I will have to transfer him to a high school outside the district or resume homeschooling. My three other children will transfer to a different district after they complete sixth grade.”

GameStop in Hartford closing                                     By Samantha Sali

GameStop in Hartford, 35 Liberty Avenue, is closing this Sunday, January 20, 2019. The news was confirmed by GameStop store manager, Zack Cull. “It is what it is,” he said. “We appreciate the community and our customers. A lot of people reached out to us and shared how upsetting the news was to hear.

The GameStop in Hartford is located in a strip center owned by Galway Companies. The Hartford location will be merging with the GameStop in West Bend, 1325 W. Paradise Drive.

The store manager in West Bend said they have already received some product from Hartford. Store officials said all gift cards will be valid at any GameStop location and if a Hartford customer has pre-ordered an item that will be available at the West Bend location on Paradise Drive.

The Hartford store is offering discounts until its closes, along with giveaways on the last day, Sunday, Jan. 20. GameStop has been in business since 1999.

Shopko Optical to remain open in West Bend, Grafton, Sussex

In the wake of Wednesday’s announcement regarding the bankruptcy filing and closure of neighborhood Shopko stores there is word a portion of the chain will remain open.

West Bend is on the list of store closings. Its last date is April 15, 2019.

According to Shopko, “All Optical locations below will remain open to serve you during store closing. Your Optical center will be relocated very soon to a new location with the same patient care you have come to expect from your Shopko Optical center.”

More details were posted in a press release from Shopko.

In order to position the Company for future success, Shopko has announced that it will be closing an additional 38 stores, relocating over 20 Optical centers to freestanding locations, and conducting an auction process for its pharmacy business. Throughout this process, all Shopko Optical centers and pharmacies remain open and continue to deliver the high-quality products and services to which its customers are accustomed. All other stores remain open as the Company continues to optimize its store footprint.

Additionally, encouraged by the performance of the four freestanding Optical centers that were opened in 2018, Shopko plans to continue to grow its optical business by opening additional freestanding Optical locations during 2019.

On the list of the Shopko Optical centers that will remain open include West Bend, Sussex and Grafton are on the list. As far as the new location is concerned it appears that information has yet to be released to the public. Clerks at the store indicated all information would have to come from Shopko Corporate.

In Mequon the Shopko Optical, 10996 N Port Washington Road, is on an end cap in a strip center across from the Chancery.  Aside from Shopko Optical the other store, Payless Shoes, may need to relocate. Staff at the shoe outlet located inside the Shopko in West Bend had no idea the future of Payless. The Payless website reads, “Entire Site Is 40% OFF Or More! Price Reflects Discount – Includes Clearance!

Updates & Tidbits

-The sale price for Egbert & Guido’s Express, Inc. in West Bend to Kwik Trip has been posted at $966,000. The store was owned by George and Kathy Muth. The parcel, 1300 E. Paradise Drive, sold on Jan. 4, 2019. That land was originally owned by Marie Muth and sold in March 19, 1997 as vacant land. It was turned over in a trust for $75,000. The current assessed value (2018) of the former Citgo property is $1,022,200.

– Meet outstanding teachers and staff during the Sunday, Jan. 27 St. Frances Cabrini Open House and Pancake Breakfast. Come join us 8:30 a.m. – noon.

– Hartford Union High School will name its next Superintendent on Jan. 28. Two candidates for the position include Cassandra Schug and Conrad Farner.

– Wednesday, Jan. 23 is Hamburger Night at the VFW Post 1393. Order your burgers to eat in the hall and enjoy a cocktail, or order your food to go for a small take-out charge.

-A new menu has been rolled out at ‘Eddie’s Moonlighting,’ 326 Commerce Street, in Barton. Eddie Daniel is leasing the popular Barton eatery. He opened Dec. 28, 2018. The new menu is a work in progress. Daniel said he will kick things off with a limited menu including pizza and burgers. He said all items from the heyday of Moonlighting will return including Joe’s fish fry.

– 19th annual Bridal Fair at Washington County Fair Park is Jan. 27. Over 70 vendors with everything from dresses to cakes, wedding venues to entertainment. Tickets $5 Pre-Sale $6 Day-Of

-Cedar Community Annual Chili Social and Used Book Sale is Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Cedar Ridge Campus, 113 Cedar Ridge Drive, West Bend. Visit the train room. Tours of Cedar Community’s independent living apartments will also be available by appointment. Enjoy our famous chili, hot ham and cheese croissant, fruit, fresh baked cookie, coffee or hot apple cider – all for only $8.50! Quarts of chili to go for $7.75.

-St Lawrence and Resurrection K.C.’s are sponsoring a 14th annual card party Sunday, Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at the Resurrection Parish Hall in Allenton. Entry fee is $5 includes play and lunch.

Find local news for free 7 days a week at WashingtonCountyInsider.com