It’s been a curious day in the West Bend School District. Here’s the scoop…
The School District has a policy that states, “It shall be the policy of West Bend Joint School District No. 1 to provide disclosure to District
residents and taxpayers regarding the total costs of any proposed referendum…” The stated intent and purpose of the policy is that the school district will disclose the full cost of a referendum – including the interest cost – on every district communication about the referendum.
Last week, the school district sent out a third (yes, you read that right) mailing about the referendum. In it, they did not disclose the full cost. Some concerned citizens filed a formal complaint against the school district for violating the policy.
That’s when things started getting weird…
I got an email this morning from the district’s HR Director at 9:18 telling me that there would be a press conference at 11 AM. There are several things odd about this. First, this is the first time the school district has reached out to me proactively under this superintendent. Second, why is the HR Director doing this? The school district employs a full time PR flak. Isn’t that her job? And if not her, why not the Superintendent himself? This is not a reflection on the HR Director. I appreciate his effort. It’s just an odd task for him to be doing. Third, I’ve been following the West Bend School District for over 15 years. This is the first time I ever recall them having a press conference. Ever. And they do so with less than two hours’ notice? Very odd.
Then there was the press conference… I couldn’t attend. I have a job. But the HR Director was kind enough to send me a full recording. The press conference was only about 15 minutes. In it, the superintendent acknowledged that a complaint was filed, but he refused to admit that the school district violated the policy. Instead, he said that the district would be send out a FOURTH mailing, at taxpayers’ expense, that would include the full cost of the referendum. The superintendent refused to explain the policy in question and refused to admit any wrongdoing. Yet, the entire press conference and reaction was clearly a reaction to the complaint. In fact, the response is in line with what the complaint demanded. If they didn’t do anything wrong, then why is the district conducting the remedy demanded in the complaint?
Then, intrepid reporter Judy Steffes asked who filed the complaint and if she could have a copy. Superintendent Kirkegaard refused to say and told her to file an open records request. Why? A complaint is clearly public information. Why not just share it? Why make someone jump through hoops? Isn’t the entire purpose of a press conference to give information to the press? And if the school district is doing all of this in the name of transparency, then why not be, you know, transparent?
This whole fiasco seems to be another chapter in the story of incompetence, duplicity, and waste that have become the hallmarks of the current West Bend School District leadership.