Category Archives: Education

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. What a debacle.

We have seen this movie before. Filled with wrath and vim, parents and students crowd a school board meeting to bewail budget cuts to their beloved programs. Only this time there was a surprise ending. The budget was never cut, and, if fact, the school district had used discretionary funds to cover overspending. The story is instructive for several reasons.

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

There is also the issue of the fiscal controls and financial decisions being made in the school district. The two forensics teams overspent their collective budget by 33% last year and are already running out of money this year. That does not happen by accident. It is a choice. Last year, the high school principals decided to cover the overage with some other pile of money. This year, Kirkegaard has said that “for the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect 2018-2019 expenses.” In short, there will be no accountability for the people overspending their budgets by over 30%. Instead, their overages are covered and the administration will just amend the budget to match expenses. It is no wonder that the adults did not take this opportunity to teach the kids about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. They are incapable of it themselves.

Finally, at the Jan. 6, School Board meeting, board member Nancy Justman beclowned herself in response to the hullabaloo. Instead of getting the facts and representing the interests of the all district stakeholders, Justman took the students’ characterization of the issue that there was a “budget cut” at face value and immediately took up their cause. Justman harangued the superintendent to bring her details of the budget (Hint: School Board members decide on the budget), demanded that the administration find the money somewhere, and called it “shameful, very shameful” that the students were being told that they would not be able to take a trip. Justman behaved like an aggrieved PTO parent instead of an elected school board member charged with serving the whole community’s interests.

In the wider perspective of the school district’s $70 million annual budget, this is a minuscule expense and small problem. It could have been easily fixed by good fiscal management and a few reasonable choices. Instead, the way in which it was bungled and manipulated from the School Board to the parents indicates a deeper, systemic dysfunction at work.

UW Presidential Search Includes Non-Academics

Excellent.

The committee assigned to select System President Ray Cross’ successor held a conference call Friday to go over the job description. Committee members agreed on language that calls for at least 10 years of experience in a “significant senior executive position” and an understanding of public higher education.

University leaders traditionally have come from academia, though some politically appointed governing boards for universities have chosen businessmen or politicians. The strategy has seen mixed success with faculty and staff often arguing that those leading institutions should have experience working at them and others saying that the job has evolved to demand more government and business acumen.

“There are constituencies that feel strongly that it should be only one way, and I think it’s wise that we don’t add emphasis to that,” UW Board of Regents President Drew Petersen said on the call. “Trying to be too precise will perhaps agitate multiple constituencies.”

The president should have some knowledge of higher education, but running an organization like the UW System requires a lot of skills that aren’t exclusive to higher education. Relationships with lawmakers, running a bureaucracy, facilities management, personnel management, budgeting, analysis and reporting, etc… all of these things are ubiquitous to any large organization. Plus, having someone come in from outside higher education offers the chance for a fresh perspective and different view. They should choose the best candidate they can get, but I’m glad that they are casting a wide net.

West Bend School District Abandons Merit Pay

I attended the two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the West Bend School Board last night. That’s the committee comprised of all of the board members, but they don’t vote on anything. They debate and discuss various agenda topics. Last night they covered a few topics including goings on at the Elementary Schools, economic development and growth in the district, facilities, and teacher compensation. I’ll get to the rest another time, but the teacher compensation part was instructive.

For background, several years ago the conservative majority on the school board used the power of Act 10 to create a teacher compensation plan that included the first attempt at merit pay. Under that plan, a part of a teacher’s compensation would have been determined by their student’s performance and educational outcomes. Since then, all of the conservatives on the board are gone and have been replaced by liberals. Well, some of them may be somewhat conservative in their private lives, but every current board member governs like a liberal. Their votes are indistinguishable from those that one might see in Madison or Milwaukee. Last night was an example.

The district administration has been gathering input and building a new compensation plan for the last year or so. The plan is not done yet, but the the HR Director presented an update on where they were. He plans to present a final plan at the board meeting on March 9th. Some of the details shared by the HR guy are:

  • The entire plan is focus on rewarding “longevity” and “added expertise.” In other words, it is NOT focused on student performance or educational outcomes. Teachers will get paid for managing to not get fired and for going to school themselves.
  • Under the “added expertise” category, the district is evaluating ways that teachers can get”micro-endorsements” or “micro-credentials” to increase their pay. This is a way for teachers to bolster their pay without having to get a whole new degree. The district is evaluating various groups that provide these and will only allow those that the district thinks will benefit kids. They will not measure whether or not it will actually benefit kids.
  • The plan is being intentionally built to be reviewed and revised on an annual basis. That’s a good thing, but the example cited was that they had not raised starter teacher pay in several years because it was too hard. By evaluating the plan annually, they can more easily adjust it to market conditions. That’s good, but I’m willing to bet my house that they will never adjust pay downward if the market conditions warrant it. Everything is geared to increase pay.

The West Bend School District is not going back to the antiquated “step and ladder” compensation model, but this doesn’t look like it will be much better. Teachers will still be rewarded for getting old and going to school without any connection to whether or not they are actually good teachers. Short of being fired for rank incompetence (a difficult and rare occurrence with a unionized workforce), teachers will just continue to earn more even if their performance is something between mediocre and miserable.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today. I take a look back at the kerfuffle over “budget cuts” at the West Bend School District. Here’s a taste, but go buy a copy for yourself:

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

West Bend Shool District Considering Increasing Capital Maintenance Budget 40%

Interesting

WEST BEND — The West Bend School District capital improvements budget is projected to increase about $600,000 for the coming 2020-21 year in an effort to address some referendum related issues. But this increase does not cover everything,

including aging facilities that concern some district staff.

District Facilities Director Dave Ross said now is when he plans for summer projects, but this year is a little different with some pressing facility needs.

The capital budget has increased about four percent for approximately the last 10 years, he said. But this year the administration proposed a budget of $2.1 million, instead of the four percent increase, which would be about $1.5 million. The projects are primarily at the high school, with the library project about half the total projected budget.

As the West Bend Private School Task Force illustrated, this is needed. The district’s capital maintenance budget is underfunded and needs to be increased – probably more than double what it currently is. But there are two other things that the task force found that also need to be considered:

  1. The Task Force illustrated a way to address the district’s capital needs and increase this budget without increasing spending or taxes. It is unclear whether that is the intent here. This is a $600k proposed increase in one part of a $70 million budget. That’s a less than 1% increase. I would expect the School Board to find savings elsewhere to accommodate this increase and keep overall spending and taxing neutral.
  2. I still don’t see an actual district-wide plan for their capital infrastructure. So they will increase this part of the budget and tackle a couple of needs. OK. Then what? Is the plan to increase this budget a bit more and just whittle down the list of needs over the next several years? That would be fine, but I haven’t seen that articulated. I haven’t see any strategic direction coming from the School Board since the referendum failed last year. The stakeholders of the district deserve more.

Students Lament Budget Cuts to Clubs, but There Weren’t Any

What a fascinating little story. Here’s the nub from Washington County Insider.

January 15, 2020 – West Bend, WI – During the Jan. 6, 2020 meeting of the West Bend School Board students packed the board room.  High school students and parents spoke about funds being cut for clubs like forensics and debate and the school music program was even mentioned.

When students in attendance were asked where the information about funding cuts came from, none could answer.

You can follow the link to see video of the students’ complaints and the board’s reaction.

So here’s the thing… there weren’t any cuts. None. At all. The school district budgeted the same amount for this year as they did last year. The Superintendent shared that what actually happened is that the Forensics/Debate clubs massively overspend their budget last year and just rolled into this year assuming that they could spend the same amount. They hit a wall and ran out of money and just assumed that their budget was “cut.” I posted my exchange with the superintendent at the bottom for more explanation, but here are a few thoughts about it:

  • How does a club with a $6,700 budget overspend it by $4,062? That’s a variance of 61%. Who signed off on that? What financial controls are in place? Is anyone being held accountable? I’m still hoping for answers to those questions.
  • Think about how this became an issue… students, clearly encouraged by their teachers and parents, flooded a school board meeting to complain about “budget cuts.” Where were the adults to teach these kids critical thinking? Did anyone of them actually look at the budget and expenditures before making that claim? Did anyone ask the administration or anyone else before going straight to the board? Were the adults that disinterested or too stupid to ask those questions themselves? It appears that the adults here were more interested in their kids being activists than in teaching them critical thinking, financial skills, or dispute resolution. These kids were really let down by the adults in their lives.
  • Perhaps worst of all was the reaction by school board member Nancy Justman. Without any evidence, facts, or, apparently, knowledge of the budgets that she voted for, she instantly took up the cause of the kids. She harangued the Superintendent to find the money and decried how deplorable the “budget cuts” were. She behaved more like a PTO member than an elected member of a public board responsible for the sound management of an entire school district.

There are still more details to uncover, but this story was very revealing from several angles. Here are more details from my conversation with the superintendent. This is a public record.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 2:59 PM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Hi Owen,

I am not sure if this answers your questions or not but do not hesitate to reach out if you have additional questions or need additional clarification.  

Where individual line items within our chart of accounts are monitored regularly for appropriate activity, our schools and programs are given an allocation for distribution and that allocation balance is monitored much more religiously than individual line items both by school administration and district administration.  

As both East and West high schools were well within their allocations, we were confident that the overage for forensics was able to be absorbed within the schools’ expenditures.  Further, this was not just one line item in our accounts but several; hence, there was not one large overage but rather several smaller ones which does happen on occasion.  

You are correct in that a budget is a financial plan and that plan changed slightly for this overage for forensics this past year.  This is why discussions occurred dating back to August and into the fall to be proactive as their season approached and to be financial stewards of their club allocation.  As stated in my earlier email, we’ll continue to work with our groups to make sure we maintain proper protocols for budget-to-activity monitoring.

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 10:25 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Thanks, Don. Can you walk me through the process of how a budget gets overspent? Are their financial safeguards in place? Who authorized it? I assume that someone had to authorize the expenditure. Was that at the club level or admin?

Thanks. Budgets are always an estimate, but if they were going that far over budget, I’d just like to understand how that could happen.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 10:46 AM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Good morning Owen,

This is a complicated budgeting process.  There are district funds and district transportation and club funds.  Both East and West have separate allocations for forensics and debate is a combined activity.   I believe you are correct in that what was overspent in the past was actually consider the budget instead of the actual budget amount.  This spring we will look at the entire budget process.  In the case of forensics either the budget need to be adjusted to reflect the expenses or the expenses needs to be adjusted to reflect the budget.   For the 2019-20 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect the 2018-19 expenses.   Actual budgets were not decreased for the current year.

East and West each have a Forensics budget of $6,700 plus transportation.  Forensics are separate but debate is combined.  Last year, West had expenses that were $356 over the budget and East had expenses that were $4,062 over budget.  There may have been some expenses that were miscoded from West to East and East attended several more events than West.

We are going to make it work for the current year and have more in the future.

Thank you,

Don Kirkegaard

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Good morning, Don.

I’ve been following with interest the kerfuffle over extracurricular club funding. The story in the paper did not have any specifics. Could you please tell me:

–        What was the budget for extracurricular clubs last year?

–        How much did they overspend?

–        Who overspent? Which club(s)?

–        What is the budget this year? Same?

I understand from the story in the Daily News that the overage was covered by a budget surplus last year. Is the whole issue here that they overspent and thought that was the new budget?

Thanks,

Owen

Corrupt Former UWO Officials Reach Plea Deal in Criminal Cases

This better not be a sweetheart deal. Public corruption involving millions of taxpayer dollars needs to be severely punished.

OSHKOSH – The public will have to wait until Wednesday to learn more about the plea agreement two former University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh executives made in a criminal misconduct case stemming from their involvement with the university’s private foundation.

Former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner, who have been free on $10,000 signature bonds since their first court hearing in June 2018, reached a deal with prosecutors, Assistant Attorney General Richard Chiapete said this week in a letter to the court.

Winnebago County Circuit Judge John Jorgensen on Friday granted a request from Sonnleitner’s defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic, to seal the agreement until the end of Wednesday’s plea and sentencing hearing.

[…]

The Wisconsin Department of Justice charged Wells and Sonnleitner in April 2018 with five counts each of misconduct in office in excess of their authority as a party to a crime after negotiations stalled in the lawsuit, which the UW System filed more than a year before. The Justice Department also represents the UW System in the civil case.

The criminal complaint, which largely mirrors the lawsuit, claims Wells and Sonnleitner improperly funneled $11 million in taxpayer money into five foundation building projects: the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel; the Culver Family Welcome Center; two biodigesters, which turn waste into electricity; and the Oshkosh Sports Complex, which includes Titan Stadium.

The complaint also outlines how Wells and Sonnleitner wrote a series of “comfort letters” to various lenders, assuring the banks the university would help out if the foundation was unable to make loan payments. The DOJ says money can’t go from the university to the foundation under state law. Attorneys for both men argued the letters did not constitute legally binding commitments.

Palmyra-Eagle School District to Remain Open

What the heck?

The Palmyra-Eagle Area School District will live on.

That’s after a state panel rejected an order from the Palmyra-Eagle Area School Board to dissolve the district.

The School District Boundary Appeal Board, a panel made up of school board members from around the state and the state superintendent’s designee, voted 6-1 to deny the dissolution at its meeting Thursday afternoon at the Palmyra-Eagle Middle School gymnasium.

[…]

The dissolution process officially started April 8, 2019, when the Palmyra-Eagle Area School Board approved a resolution to consider dissolution of the school district.

But the wheels started turning six days earlier when 61% of district voters rejected a four-year, $11.5 million operational referendum that district officials said was needed to keep the cash-strapped district running.

On July 1, the school board took the next step, ordering the district’s dissolution.

A non-binding advisory referendum on the dissolution, triggered by a community-led petition drive, was held Nov. 5, with 53% of voters saying they wanted to see the district dissolve.

This is another example of the arrogance of those in government. The people of the district voted down a referendum with the clear understanding that doing so meant that they would have to dissolve the district. Then the people voted in an advisory referendum to dissolve the district. The school board – elected by the people in the district – voted to dissolve the school district. In a brazen act of self-governance, the people could not have been more clear.

And yet, after all that, an unelected state board comprised of people who do not live in the district vote to keep the school district open.

Insane.

We are going to see this again and again. Enrollment across the state is declining and it is sensible to consolidate school districts to adapt to those trends. But the push against it is coming from entrenched government bureaucracy that is more interested in maintaining the status quo than in managing taxpayer resources to provide the best education for the most kids.

Bill Moves Ahead to Require Teaching Cursive in Wisconsin

Hmmm

Introduced by state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, the bill would require schools receiving state money — public and private — to teach cursive so students can write legibly in it by fifth grade.

“Surprisingly to many, cursive writing can lend a hand in the process of improving reading,” Thiesfeldt told the Assembly Committee on State Affairs during a public hearing Nov. 6. “This bill isn’t just about nostalgia of being able to read grandma’s letters and primary source historical documents.”

The state Senate Committee on Education recommended on a 5-4 vote Dec. 20 to send the bill to the full Senate for passage. The Assembly committee has not yet acted on their version of the bill.

The linked story does a good job of laying out the arguments. The issue isn’t whether or not we should teach cursive. Personally, I think we should, but I can understand the opposite view. The issue is whether or not the state should mandate it. The state mandates all sorts of things to local school districts – both big and small – but should this be left to local school boards to decide? Or is there a valid state interest in including cursive teaching as one of the list of things that are required as part of a standard Wisconsin education? I’m on the fence.

 

School District Encourages Student Activism

I have a novel idea… how ’bout the schools actually use their time to educate kids?

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — One of the largest school districts in the United States has announced that it will allow students one excused absence per school year to participate civic activities such as protests.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia plans to start allowing the absences Jan. 27, 2020, news outlets reported. The district is the largest school system in the state.

Students in seventh through 12th grades can use the day for “civic engagement activities” such as attending marches or meeting with lawmakers, according to district spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell.

The new policy was introduced by Fairfax School Board member Ryan McElveen, according to The Washington Post. He says the rule may be the first of its kind in the U.S.

“I think we’re setting the stage for the rest of the nation with this,” McElveen said. “It’s a dawning of a new day in student activism, and school systems everywhere are going to have to be responsive to it.”

Evers Prefers to Spend Any Potential Surplus

Of course he does.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers isn’t ruling out a potential property tax cut Republicans are considering for next year — but he stressed the state needs to ensure “we have the resources necessary” to pursue the idea.

Still, Evers in Monday end-of-year interview with the Cap Times said it is “way too early” to commit spending potential surplus funding when Wisconsin has “issues around clean drinking water” and “our schools not having enough resources.”

Will anyone ever define what “enough” looks like for our public schools? We are spending more on schools than ever and far more on public schools than on private schools. Meanwhile, educational outcomes are steadily declining. What is “enough?” $20k per kid? $30k? How much would we have to spend before liberals admit that more money is not the solution?

UW Spends Slush Fund

A good chunk of it anyway.

Six years after public and political outcry over how much the University of Wisconsin System had on hand in unspent tuition money, a report released this fall shows the System has spent down more than half of its tuition balances.

The balances refer to how much tuition and student fees campuses collect to spend on direct education expenses, such as faculty and academic supplies, remain at the end of each fiscal year after all expenses are paid.

To force campuses to spend down their extra funds, the Legislature froze tuition for in-state undergraduates in 2013 and also cut state funding in recent years. The System has responded by spending down 56% of its tuition balances since fiscal year 2013 to cover campuses’ operating expenses.

“We need to remember this represents not even thirty-five days of operating expenses for our campuses,” Regent Janice Mueller told the UW Board of Regents this fall about the tuition balances level, which was $245 million for the fiscal year ending June 30.

That figure is the lowest recorded since the System began producing reports five years ago in response to Republican demands for more transparency of the accounts.

It’s almost as if they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it.

West Bend School Board Member to Present to CSC Tonight

FYI:

This is a reminder to attend tonight’s meeting at The West Bend Moose Lodge. Kurt Rebholz of the West Bend School Board will give a District update and anyone running in upcoming elections will be given time to introduce themselves. The meeting will begin at 7:00 and as always is open to the public.

Time for the Jackson School District?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I continue to explore the thoughts around a potential new Jackson School District. As we discussed in an earlier thread, everything would depend on where you draw the line around the new district. I think the people in Jackson would to well to explore the issue quickly, then do it or don’t. But stop talking about it if they aren’t going to actually act. Here’s a taste:

From a pure financial lens, the good folks in the current enrollment area of Jackson Elementary would do well to break off into their own school district even though it would be a massive blow to the West Bend School District. But that is not the whole story. This is not just a financial discussion. As I stated at the beginning of this column, the only reason that really matters is if, after all of the rigmarole it would take to create a new district, the kids would get a better education.

 

Task Force Presentation Recap

As previously noted, I re-presented the findings of the West Bend School District Private Task Force to a group of interested citizens in Jackson. The Washington County Insider streamed it live and has the recording and recap. You can find that here.

I thought the meeting went well and the Q&A was robust. With an audience of mostly folks from Jackson, there were a lot of concerns about how Jackson is perceived to be treated by the rest of the district, the economic impact of Jackson Elementary, and other concerns specific to Jackson. The most interesting discussion was about whether or not Jackson should break off and form its own district. One of the audience members shared that the Village Board approached the School Board about 20 years ago to discuss this and were dismissed out of hand. That’s unfortunate, but it is an interesting question to ponder. The rationale is that Slinger has about 5,000 citizens and has its own district. Jackson has about 5,700 citizens and does not. And the citizens of Jackson are frustrated with not being able to determine their own destiny regarding public schools.

The process to break off and create a new district is not easy.  Essentially, the West Bend School Board would have to agree. If they don’t agree, then the electors can appeal and maybe can still get it done. Then they have to pass a referendum to borrow the money to build the new schools, and actually create a new district. In the case of Jackson, it may get even more complicated. Remember that the Village and Town of Jackson actually sits in three school districts – Germantown, Slinger, and West Bend. So if Jackson wants to stretch its district boundaries to include a larger tax base, they would need to get each relevant school board to agree. If you think getting one board to agree would be hard, imaging three. If Jackson just limits a new district boundary to the part that currently exists in the West Bend School District, then they are excluding a significant tax base to support the new district.

If Jackson can get through the process, then comes the reality of building a new district. Let’s just do some simple math. I don’t have easy data for how many school age kids are in Jackson and it would really depend on where they draw the line. But there are 351 kids in the K-4 Jackson Elementary. Figure that means that with an even distribution, there are about 70 Jackson kids in each grade level. That’s a total of 910 kids. So… if there are 910 kids in the new district and they spend $10,000 per kid (that’s below the state average of $11,071), then the annual spend for the new district would need to be about $9.1 million. Of that, the state taxpayers will pay a portion. How much? No idea. But as a relatively property rich district, I would venture to say that it would be less than half. To be generous, let’s say that the state taxpayers would pay half of the cost, so local property taxpayers would have to pay $4,550,000 per year to support the district. That’s just operating cost and does not include the initial construction costs.

Still with me? OK, so here is the most recent property values of the municipalities in the West Bend School District:

So let’s say that best case, both the Village and Town of Jackson create their own district. That’s an equalized value of $950,334,000 of equalized value. To generate $4,550,000 of annual tax revenue, it would take a mill rate of 4.79 – or $4.79 for every $1,000 of property value. For a $200,000 house, that would be a tax bill of $958 per year. For comparison, the West Bend School District has a mill rate of 7.97.

With these set of assumptions, it might make financial sense for Jackson to create its own district. Of course, those assumptions may change radically. For example, if it is only the Village of Jackson and does not include the Town of Jackson, then the tax base is cut in a third. And if the taxpayers only pay for 20% or 25% of the annual cost, then the balance would have to come from the local property taxpayers. Or if they decide to spend $12,000 per child or $8,500 per child, the costs would change dramatically.

In any case, if the folks in Jackson are serious about this, they will need to figure out what they want the end state to look like and then run the approval process gauntlet. It would be an interesting evaluation. And as I said in the meeting, I would hope that the beginning and ending consideration from both the folks in Jackson and those on the West Bend School Board would be what is in the best interests of the most kids.

School Task Force Presentation Tonight!

Come to Jackson. Join the discussion. 

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Forceto be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.

Task Force Presentation in Jackson Tomorrow

If you’re in the West Bend School District, come check this out!

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Force to be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.

UW Regents Exclude Faculty from Presidential Search Committee

I think I’m with the Regents on this one.

Faculty at all 13 University of Wisconsin System campuses have called on the UW Board of Regents to expand its presidential search committee and include representation from the faculty, staff and students whom the next president will oversee.

But Board of Regents president Drew Petersen said in a Monday statement that he will not expand the committee.

Faculty, graduate assistants and staff make up 96% of the System’s 40,000-member workforce, but none of them have a seat on the search committee tasked with selecting System President Ray Cross’ successor. In past searches, faculty and staff played a role in identifying the next leader.

“The people with the boots on the ground are not represented,” UW-Madison food science professor Mark Etzel told his colleagues at a Faculty Senate meeting Monday. “I find it to be a preposterous proposal. It’s just a shame what faculty governance has become at the University of Wisconsin.”

Think of this from a private sector perspective… do employees participate in the search and vetting of new executives? Nope. Should they? Maybe, but it’s certainly not required. Sometimes the executives that the employees like are the worst ones. Sometimes you need executives to be a change agent and employees are naturally resistant to change. Depending on what the Regents are looking for, it might be best to not let the employees have a say.

West Bend School Board Reconsiders Process to Combine High Schools

Hmmm… from the Washington County Insider.

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.

Private Task Force to Present Findings in Jackson

From the Washington County Insider.

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Force to be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.