West Bend School Board Member Raises Concern about Biased Referendum Presentations

Good for Ken Schmidt.

WEST BEND — The $47 million April referendum and allegedly presenting biased, persuasive information on its issues were discussed at the West Bend Joint School District Board of Education regular monthly meeting Monday night.

Board member Ken Schmidt said he heard some district officials were encouraging residents to vote one way or another, which is illegal.

“I want to make sure the district is doing what’s legal,” he said.

In response, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said he was aware of the legality of attempting to persuade people to vote one way or another and is not urging voters in that manner. No materials are encouraging them one way or the other, he said.

Here’s the game they play… it is illegal for the Superintendent or district staff to advocate for or against a school referendum because they are paid by tax dollars. But the definition of “advocacy” centers around the use of specific words like “vote for,” “please support,” etc.

So they avoid those words, but the material is heavily slanted. For example, take this comment:

If the referendum fails, there is indeed no backup plan, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said. These improvements need to be done; waiting isn’t much of an option…

Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that it is management malpractice to not have alternate plans, this makes it clear that Kirkegaard wants people to vote for the referendum.

Or this:

“I can say with full honesty that I wasn’t the driving force in making this recommendation,” Kirkegaard said. “But if I was here three years ago, I would’ve made this recommendation because I think it makes sense.”

That is Kirkegaard offering his opinion. That isn’t a factual presentation. If the Superintendent says that it makes sense, then isn’t he, ergo, advocating for its passage?

The most egregious area where they advocate is in the information they choose to share and how they present it. For example, their misleading way of presenting the tax load. Or the fact that their materials label everything as a “need.” Is replacing cabinetry really a need that requires a massive tax increase? Or the way they continue to throw out phrases like, “some (high school) classrooms have not been
updated in nearly 50 years. THE SCHOOL IS ONLY 49 YEARS OLD and the vast majority of them have seen multiple updates over the years. Frankly, I’d like to see the proof that ANY of them haven’t seen some updates.

I doubt that school officials have done any illegal advocacy by the letter of the law, but it is certainly clear to anyone listening to them that they are advocating for its passage.