In October 2019, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said, “unless there is a change in enrollment trends, the district can expect declining enrollment for the next 8-10 years.”Click HERE to see predicted enrollment trends, including numbers from the high schools which show a drop in enrollment from 2019 at 2,184 to 1,669 in 2028.
Board member Joel Ongert brought up Policy 188: Should the Board decide to further consider reconfiguration of the high schools, the Board must proceed to a non-binding referendum at the next Gubernatorial or Presidential election balloting. The next Presidential election is Nov. 3, 2020.
Policy 188 was put into place in 2015; it was the last time the district broached the subject of combining the two high schools.Joel Ongert – “The way this policy reads and all the steps, this could take potentially years… So I think it’s time we look at this policy. I’m not saying we totally eliminate it, I’m not saying that we … maybe not necessarily start from scratch. I think it’s time we start looking at this policy, just in case in the future the declining enrollment numbers … It would be easier for us to close an elementary school than it would be to combine the two high schools.”
For a little background… West Bend has two high schools in one building. This was done decades ago for the purpose of having all of the benefits of two high schools (primarily, double the extracurricular opportunities) while saving money with a single campus. As currently configured, virtually all of the academic departments operate as a single school. The only things that are separate are the extracurricular and sports teams and we are paying for two administrations.
About every five years – when we have a new batch of parents with kids in the high schools – the community debates whether the district should just have one high school. It is always an emotional and raucous discussion. Personally, I’m a supporter of combining the schools. It is more efficient and the benefits of the current configuration do not outweigh the detriments. But there are generations of Benders who are emotionally invested in being a Sun or a Spartan and don’t want to see them combined. While I disagree with these folks, their perspective is certainly valid and they deserve a voice.
After the last round of debate, the School Board put the referenced policy in place. The purpose was to provide a pre-determined process by which the question of combining the high schools would be considered in a way that provides transparency and community participation. Based on the conversation had by school board members last night, the rapidly declining enrollment if the district is generating a fresh look at the question, but board members may want to revise the process to allow them more latitude in making the decision.
Should they? Maybe. Any policy can be revised by a board. It will depend on what they do. If they want to revise the policy to allow a referendum question to be put on more possible dates, then that’s probably fine. If they want to eliminate the public voice altogether, then it’s not fine.
In any case, I am disappointed that the school board would inject this emotionally-charged discussion into what was already a vigorous debate about the physical infrastructure of the district and the impact of declining enrollment. It could be a poison pill in a comprehensive plan.