Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. You really should pick up a copy. Here’s a taste to encourage you:

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.

2 Responses to Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

  1. Mark Hoefert says:

    This referendum was Plan B.

    There was a Plan A in place that was ignored.

    Perhaps the Board should revisit Plan A.

    This editorial written by a former Board President expresses some of the elements of Plan A:

    https://www.washingtoncountyinsider.com/letter-to-the-editor-3-3/

     

  2. Owen Owen says:

    Indeed. What struck me about that admission was how unprofessional it was. There should always be a plan B – and usually a C and D. Anything less is just poor management. No battle plan ever survived a war and good leaders are always weighing alternatives to reach an objective. Why would I want to give $47 million to such poor managers?

    In the history of referendums the past 15 years in the district, I have opposed all but one of them. And one more I was borderline. When Neitzke and the board were pushing the Badger and Silverbrook referendums, I took a fairly neutral position. I could see the need, but I thought the plan was flawed. But when pitching it, they were clear that if the referendum failed, they had alternatives. They were alternatives that they didn’t favor, but they were alternatives nonetheless. I thought it was a mature approach to trying to solve a perceived problem and an honest question for the voters.

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