Category Archives: Education

Assembly Republicans Agree to Waste Slightly Less Money than Evers

Ugh. Remember that throwing more tax dollars into the government school system isn’t about improving education. It’s about appeasing politicians’ egos.

Assembly Republicans say they support an education budget that would spend an additional $500 million on schools, an amount about $900 million less than Gov. Tony Evers proposed.

Evers called for a $1.4 billion increase in state spending on K-12 education, driven in large part by a $606 million increase in special education funding.

The budget unveiled Wednesday by Assembly Republicans would spend considerably less, setting aside an additional $50 million for special education over the next two years.

Republicans said that was still substantial, noting the state had not increased special education funding for more than a decade.

They also said under the Assembly GOP plan, the state would fund two-thirds of the cost of K-12 education statewide, a benchmark that was written into law in the 1990s but repealed in the 2000s.

Downsizing

Mark Belling has a good column today about the generational decline in the birth rate and its impact on schools.

Downsizing a school district shouldn’t be difficult. You just reduce administrators, teachers and buildings in the same proportion as your enrollment declines. The problems are: The administrators don’t want to downsize themselves, the teachers are overly specialized and parents go ballistic when somebody proposes to close their kids’ school. One local district even decided to keep an elementary school open for one more year even though its enrollment is down to 50 (for the entire school!).

Districts got overbuilt when my generation’s parents were spitting out kids like rabbits (thus, the baby “boom”). Then my huge generation and the Gen Xers decided to sprawl out to the suburbs, creating need for more buildings in the Brookfields, Mequons and Burlingtons of the world. Along came the millennials and all of their idiosyncrasies, including an evident dislike of large families (or any families). What we have are massively overbuilt school systems with ridiculously bloated staffs of specialists, counselors, directors of this, that and the other thing, and in-house custodians, groundskeepers and nurses.

The only way out of this mess is to: a.) force the millennials to have kids (you can’t do that); b.) hope the incoming Generation Z kids revert back to wanting kids (unlikely); or c.) downsizing. The worst option of all is to borrow globs of money, increase your spending and put up even more buildings. That disastrous option is exactly the one most Wisconsin districts are taking.

Evil Billionaire Pays off Debt

Very, very cool.

Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith earned some stunned looks on Sunday during his commencement address at Morehouse College.

He told the graduating students he’d pay off their student debt.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family that have been in this country: We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith sad.

He continued: “I’ve got the alumni over here. And this is a challenge to alumni. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

College Enrollment is Declining

This is a trend larger than Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is one of 34 states where enrollment declined for nearly all types of higher education institutions last spring, in part due to the state’s declining birth rate and a better post-recession economy.

It’s interesting to see the different response from private vs. government universities. Knowing that they have to make themselves more attractive to continue to get a share of a shrinking pool, private universities are downsizing and/or transforming:

For instance, to help address Wisconsin’s shortage of pharmacists, Concordia University in Mequon started a program to train them. The Medical College of Wisconsin also started a program.

Another private institute, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, is expanding its computer science program with an emphasis on artificial intelligence.

Our government schools, knowing that they have a permanent source of revenue via taxpayers, continue to prop up old structures for the sake of keeping them alive:

Last month, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point dropped plans to scrap six majors to solve a budget deficit after backlash from students and staff.

 

 

School spending doesn’t help grades

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

Speaker Robin Vos agreed with Gov. Tony Evers that Wisconsin’s government schools need an increase in spending in the next state budget. Now they are just arguing over the amount. The push for more and more spending on government schools is being fueled by two myths. The first myth is that more spending will result in better education. The second myth is that we are not spending enough already. Let us debunk those myths.

Wisconsin taxpayers have been increasing spending on public education for decades with little to show for it. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, Wisconsin’s government schools spent an average of $3,224 per student in the 1982-1983 school year. By last year, that number had grown to $13,505 per student, or, accounting for inflation, $5,190 in 1982 dollars. That is a 61 percent increase in per-pupil spending in normalized dollars.

With that generous increase in spending, the people should expect a solid increase in educational outcomes, right? Wrong. There isn’t any longitudinal performance data for Wisconsin that stretches back that far. More recent data shows that ACT and standardized test scores have remained stubbornly static in Wisconsin. But countless studies have shown that America’s educational performance has remained static or declined over that time period. Subjectively, few people would attempt to argue that a 2018 graduate received an education that is 61% better than a 1983 graduate. Spending more money has not resulted in a better education.

Yet despite all of the additional spending, our government schools have perpetuated a myth that they are underfunded. That is difficult to believe when they continue to waste so much money. For example, Wisconsin’s government schools allow exceedingly high teacher absenteeism.

The Wisconsin DPI tracks student absenteeism and classifies students who miss ten or more days of school as “high risk.” The federal Department of Education tracks how many teachers are absent for 10 or more days per school year. The most recent data show a lot of high-risk teachers in Washington County. The percentage of teachers who were absent for more than 10 days during the school year was 21.7% in West Bend, 18.5% in Slinger, 28.1% in Germantown, and a whopping 30.8% in Kewaskum. These percentages of chronic absenteeism are stunning given that there are only about 187 annual work days for teachers compared to 260 for most other professions.

According to a study by the Thomas Fordham Institute, teachers in traditional public schools in America are almost three times more likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, and teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as their non-unionized charters. Act 10 allowed for school boards to address chronic absenteeism by taking everything off of the union bargaining table except pay, but almost no school districts have taken any action to tackle teacher absenteeism.

Another area where school districts have failed to leverage Act 10 to economize is in the area of health insurance. According to DPI data, Wisconsin school districts spend an average of $20,110 for a family medical insurance plan. Of that, school districts ask employees to pay an average of 11.75% of the premium. That compares to national averages of $18,764 and 33%, respectively. By simply shopping for more economical health insurance plans and asking employees to pay a more reasonable portion of the premium, Wisconsin’s government schools could liberate millions of dollars in their budgets.

Many taxpayers might also be surprised to learn how few of the dollars spent on government schools are actually used for instruction. According to DPI data, Wisconsin’s government schools only spend 53.6% of every dollar on instruction. The rest of it is spent on facilities (6.9%), transportation (3.9%), support staff (9.5%), administration (7.7%), and “other” (13.4%). Any organization that only spends 53.6% of its revenue on its primary function is woefully inefficient.

The evidence shows that spending more on government schools will not result in better educational outcomes. It also shows that Wisconsin’s government schools continue to waste an inordinate amount of money that never even makes it to a classroom. Spending more money on these schools may make politicians feel better about themselves, but it does not benefit kids or families.

School spending doesn’t help grades

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I’m not crazy about the title they gave it. My working title was, “Politicians Agree that Wasting Taxpayer Money Helps their Electoral Prospects.” I admit… that’s a bit verbose. Anyway, here’s a piece to encourage you to go pick up a copy:

Speaker Robin Vos agreed with Gov. Tony Evers that Wisconsin’s government schools need an increase in spending in the next state budget. Now they are just arguing over the amount. The push for more and more spending on government schools is being fueled by two myths. The first myth is that more spending will result in better education. The second myth is that we are not spending enough already. Let us debunk those myths.

Wisconsin taxpayers have been increasing spending on public education for decades with little to show for it. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, Wisconsin’s government schools spent an average of $3,224 per student in the 1982-1983 school year. By last year, that number had grown to $13,505 per student, or, accounting for inflation, $5,190 in 1982 dollars. That is a 61 percent increase in per-pupil spending in normalized dollars.

With that generous increase in spending, the people should expect a solid increase in educational outcomes, right? Wrong. There isn’t any longitudinal performance data for Wisconsin that stretches back that far. More recent data shows that ACT and standardized test scores have remained stubbornly static in Wisconsin.But countless studies have shown that America’s educational performance has remained static or declined over that time period. Subjectively, few people would attempt to argue that a 2018 graduate received an education that is 61% better than a 1983 graduate. Spending more money has not resulted in a better education.

Yet despite all of the additional spending, our government schools have perpetuated a myth that they are underfunded. That is difficult to believe when they continue to waste so much money. For example, Wisconsin’s government schools allow exceedingly high teacher absenteeism.

The Wisconsin DPI tracks student absenteeism and classifies students who miss ten or more days of school as “high risk.” The federal Department of Education tracks how many teachers are absent for 10 or more days per school year. The most recent data show a lot of high-risk teachers in Washington County. The percentage of teachers who were absent for more than 10 days during the school year was 21.7% in West Bend, 18.5% in Slinger, 28.1% in Germantown, and a whopping 30.8% in Kewaskum. These percentages of chronic absenteeism are stunning given that there are only about 187 annual work days for teachers compared to 260 for most other professions.

According to a study by the Thomas Fordham Institute, teachers in traditional public schools in America are almost three times more likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, and teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as their non-unionized charters. Act 10 allowed for school boards to address chronic absenteeism by taking everything off of the union bargaining table except pay, but almost no school districts have taken any action to tackle teacher absenteeism.

Evers Plan Would Stifle Open Enrollment

Things like this would be solved if we had a 100% voucher system where all of the money follows the child every time. We are spending money to educate kids, right? It’s not just to feed the bureaucracy, is it?

Under current law, the transfer amount will increase if there are increases in K-12 aid. This is a win-win because the resident district can count the pupil under the revenue limit and the non-resident district receives additional revenue for a student who only marginally increases their costs.

But the governor’s proposal takes away these automatic increases (known as indexing) to the open enrollment program. By removing this indexing, open enrollment nonresident districts will not receive the same increase in funding as other K-12 schools will under Evers’ budget. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), districts will forgo about $158 per student in new revenue for the 2019-20 school year, and a staggering $595 per student in the 2020-21 school year.

This is important because school districts in Wisconsin have a choice about whether or not to allow a student to participate in open enrollment. Both the resident district and the nonresident district must approve a student transfer.

Because additional students bring additional costs, it is vital that the financial incentive exists for the receiving districts to take on the burden of an additional student. The table below shows the top 10 largest net receiving open enrollment districts in the state, based on the most recent year of data from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and the estimated revenue they would lose out on in each of the next two years under the governors’ plan.

Teaching Office Life

Not a bad thought.

If you’ve spent much time working with recent graduates – people who have just finished university without much work experience – you’ve probably witnessed your share of odd office behaviour.

For instance, the new grad who shows up dressed for a night of clubbing, or the entry level worker who doesn’t realise the CEO in a Fortune 500 company doesn’t want his opinion about their new brand strategy, or the new grad who takes all her calls on speakerphone without noticing the colleagues glaring in her direction.

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about entry-level workers who think they should get a corner office or have their own assistant right off the bat – but in my experience, those are outliers.

Of course, we’ve all been there at the start of our own careers … because we don’t do a very good job of teaching students and recent graduates how to navigate office life. We teach them other things – how to write a research paper or analyse a poem or conduct a lab experiment – but we don’t have many formalised mechanisms for teaching the sort of skills that will have a huge impact on how to succeed in your first few years of work: skills most of us think of as just how to be in an office.

Part of the problem is that the people who could do the teaching work in academia and don’t have much, if any, recent experience of industry

Instead, we just throw young people in and expect them to figure it out … which of course leads to plenty of professional faux pas along the way, some of them only mildly embarrassing but some quite embarrassing indeed.

We’ve all heard the stereotypes about entry-level workers who think they should get a corner office or have their own assistant right off the bat – but in my experience, those are outliers. What’s much more common are young workers who haven’t fully processed that they’re adults now and don’t need to ask for permission to go to lunch, or to leave a meeting to use the bathroom, or who feel awkward calling their older colleagues by their first names, or are afraid of asking questions because they think they’re already supposed to have all the answers.

Registrar Accused of Taking Bribes

It’s becoming clear that the college admissions process is riddled with corruption.

A former Delaware State University (DSU) official pleaded guilty to taking over $70,000 in bribes in a scheme to help give out-of-state students in-state tuition, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Wednesday.

Crystal Martin, a former registrar at the school, pleaded guilty to one felony count of bribery and could face as many as 10 years behind bars for her part in the scheme that cost the university an estimated $3 million.

“The defendant abused her position at a public university to personally profit and to defraud her employer,’’ U.S. Attorney David Weiss said in a statement. “Individuals who accept bribes while serving in a public capacity risk undermining trust in those institutions.’’

This is partially a consequence of the inflated cost of higher education coupled with the societal conception that a college degree is vital for a successful career. If you make a college degree the only ticket to financial security (or perceived that way) and then jack up the cost of getting it, people are going to do whatever they think is necessary to get it.

West Bend School Board Considers Extending School Year to Allow More Days Off

I heard some scuttlebutt on social media about the School Board meeting a couple of weeks ago where they discussed the proposed new school calendar, so I decided to watch the meeting. I do these things so that you can enjoy time with your families…

Here’s what went down… there is an ad hoc committee that forms every year to recommend the school calendar. They do it a bit in advance, so the one they are looking at now is for the 2020-2021 school year. The committee brought their recommendation to the school board and the school board was supposed to vote on the schedule.

What they recommended is that the school board extend the school year to June 9th so that the teachers can have a paid day off each month in addition to the already scheduled teacher work days and holidays. The committee said that there was a strong desire to have the extra day off each month so that they can be refreshed and at their best. Yes, that was actually the driving force behind the extra days off during the year.

Here’s the video of the exchange. They schedule stuff starts at minute 12:40.

Hats off to board member Nancy Justman for challenging the schedule and saying she would vote against it (as did Ken Schmidt). Justman correctly pointed out that the extra day off during the school year creates a hardship for families who have to arrange for child care. She also pointed out that in the private sector, bosses don’t just give the staff a paid day off every month for the heck of it. Finally, Justman wondered why there was only one parent representative on the committee – a great point. The superintendent and presenter confirmed that this was actually unusual… there wasn’t ANY parent representative the previous two years.

In the end, they tabled the vote for the schedule and gave the committee instructions to come back with two options – the current option and one that takes out the extra days off and ends the school year a week earlier. I believe they were presented those options tonight, but I didn’t make the meeting. We’ll see how it went shortly.

Again, kudos to Nancy Justman for ensuring that the voices of other stakeholders were heard before approving the schedule.

UWM 2-Year School to Drop Athletics

Seems like a rational move.

April 12, 2019 – Washington Co., WI – A letter was sent to faculty and staff at UWM at Washington County on Friday morning, April 12, from Stephen E. Schmid, Ph.D.

Interim Dean College of General Studies at University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee announcing the conference athletic programs would be cut at the University in Washington County in 2020-2021.
[…]
The move to sunset competitive conference athletics at the end of the 2019-20 academic year is driven by several factors. Declining enrollments have resulted in declining segregated fee revenues, leaving less funding for non-athletics student life activities and personnel. For this academic year, athletics segregated fee budgets account for approximately 50 percent of all collected segregated fee revenues at Washington County and more than 30 percent at Waukesha. Second, with the end of the UW Colleges, the Wisconsin Collegiate Conference will be unfunded and effectively terminated next year. Continuing support for this conference will incur additional costs to both campuses. Finally, you may know that our coaches have often struggled in many sports to recruit enough students to form a team. On average over the past three years, Washington County has had 60 student athletes per year, and Waukesha 68, with some sports not running this past year due to lack of interest.

UW Stevens Point to Continue to Waste Money on Unnecessary Majors

Not that the majors are unnecessary, but the duplication of availability of them within the UW System is unnecessary. This is the kind of stuff that has caused the cost of higher education to outstrip inflation for decades.

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point said its 2018 Point Forward plan to scrap 13 majors was an opportunity to be more nimble. Faculty members, meanwhile, petitioned to remove their chancellor and provost and asked if Stevens Point could remain a true university without core liberal arts fields such as history and foreign languages.

At the same time, professors across the University of Wisconsin system looked at Stevens Point as a test case. How would recent changes to state law and system policies making it easier to cut programs and faculty members be exercised in practice? And would other campuses follow? Even beyond the state, the university’s proposed cuts attracted attention and opposition from professors and academic groups.

Now — after already taking seven majors off the chopping block, leaving just six — Stevens Point is cutting nothing. Chancellor Bernie Patterson announced the development Wednesday in a campus memo saying that the “curricular proposals related to Point Forward have been resolved.”

Oh, and it’s clear that the faculty still runs these universities.

University Agrees to Discontinue Use of Race in Admissions

I’m sure they will still accept big checks from parents ;)

(CNN)The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine will not consider race or national origin as a factor in its admissions process, according to an agreement the school entered with the Department of Education in February.

The agreement concludes a 14-year-long investigation into the school’s use of affirmative action in its admissions process after someone who did not end up applying to the school filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights in 2004. The Department of Education’s office began the investigation in July 2005, according to department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill.
The agreement states that the school of medicine will stop considering race and/or national origin “as part of the holistic admissions process.” If the school decides to use race as a factor in the admissions process again, it must notify the Department of Education and provide a “reasoned, principled explanation” for why it plans to do so, according to the agreement.
The complainant said that the Texas Tech School of Medicine’s “expected use of race as one of many factors in the admissions process” was a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to a letter from the Department of Education obtained by CNN.
On a more serious note… 14 YEARS!?!? How is that kind of lethargy in our justice system providing justice for anyone?

More Reaction to Failed Referendum

There are a couple of interesting pieces in the Daily News today in response to the referendum. First this, from local columnist and business leader John Torinus who expresses surprise at the failure of the referendum:

Note that all seven sitting School Board members supported the passage of the $47 million project. They sincerely believe that Jackson needs a better building and that the high school needs upgrades for safety and STEM education purposes.

So does Superintendent Don Kirkegaard.

So does the business community for economic development purposes. It’s hard to recruit talented employees without a first-class school system.

None of them will drop this issue from their priority lists for the district. They will undoubtedly listen to the voters and come back with a lesser number in 2020.

This is the vein that I commented on yesterday. There is an arrogance and condescension dripping from the view that all of the “right” people in town supported the referendum but the little people were too stupid to vote correctly. There is no willingness to accept the will of the people. No, the only thought is to bring a referendum back in another election with better packaging. This kind of elitism and disdain for regular folks is the same attitude that feeds support for Trump.

Then this from Superintendent Kirkegaard:

While a majority of residents who voted did not support the referendum, this provides the West Bend School Board and me with valuable information regarding improvements.

I sincerely hope that residents feel they had adequate information to make their decision. Through informational meetings, mailings, website posts, social media posts and emails, we tried to offer all the details on the proposal.

In addition, I am grateful to have met many people in the community through my presentations and less formal interactions.

As the West Bend School District and the board move forward, we will continue to engage with the community on the issues of facilities improvements and their funding. We will seek feedback from some who voted “no” and some who voted “yes” to gain insight on their reasons for their vote.

The vision of the West Bend School District is “Excellence for All.” Let there be no doubt that regardless of referendum voting results, our staff each day lives that vision to provide the best education and the best experience possible for the amazing children we are lucky to serve.

That’s a very nice note. As a citizen of the district, I appreciate his attitude, willingness to accept the will of the voters – even though he disagrees with it – and the forward-looking focus on executing the mission of the district. Well done.

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

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

The voters in the West Bend School District voiced a definitive “no” to the referendum question to raise taxes and borrow $47 million to build and renovate buildings. Now that the School Board has that answer, they must plan to meet the needs of the district within the taxpayers’ means.

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.

On the revenue side, this means that the district can expect flat to declining revenue every year. Most of the district’s revenue comes from two sources. The property tax levy raises about $38.5 million. Due to revenue limits imposed 25 years ago, the school district is limited by how much they can raise property taxes every year. State taxpayers kick in about $30.7 million to the West Bend School District. Both the revenue limits and state aid are driven by enrollment. As enrollment declines, the School Board can expect less state aid and they will not be able to raise property taxes enough to compensate due to revenue limits.

The good news is that as revenue declines with enrollment, so do expenses. While it is difficult to reduce spending with a decline in enrollment of one child, a reduction in enrollment of 10 percent to 20 percent is a different story. All fixed costs become variable costs with time. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s expenses are for salaries and benefits for employees. The other 30 percent goes to everything else. It is reasonable to expect that the district should reduce the number of employees commensurate to the number of children being educated. Likewise, with 1.14 million square feet of buildings in the district, it is reasonable to expect that the district can reduce the number of buildings to match what the kids need.

What does this mean in real terms? It means that the West Bend School Board should plan on reducing the number of employees in a controlled manner. The easy way is to not backfill retirements and resignations, but if that is not enough, then separations based on the needs of the kids and the district must be done. It is not an attack on teachers to let them go when they are not needed. It is responsible planning to meet the needs of fewer kids.

Similarly, as the buildings in the district become less utilized, the School Board must consider plans to consolidate facilities. The school district has five elementary schools. Would four be enough if there are 20 percent fewer kids? Of course. This is always a contentious issue, but it does not have to be. The mission of the school district is to educate kids — not operate unnecessary buildings.

As the School Board manages a projected decline in enrollment, they should also work to eliminate unnecessary expenses by fully utilizing Act 10. For example, asking employees to pay the same percentage of their health insurance premiums that most taxpayers pay would free up hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. This budgetary liquidity would allow the district to pay great teachers more money by implementing the merit pay system that was abandoned last year.

The voters of the West Bend School District sent a very clear message to the School Board. The voters expect the School Board to work with the money they already have. Knowing that the district is facing a systemic decline in enrollment, the School Board must manage to that reality.

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.

Hortonville Tracks Kids on Buses

This seems like a good use of technology.

A Wisconsin school district is testing a system that uses GPS on buses to track students, which officials say will help improve safety.

Two buses used by the Hortonville Area School District have been keeping data on when students get on and off for the past two months. Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The buses have UniteGPS system tablets, which accept swipes from about 130 student identification cards. The information is sent to a website that school officials can access in real time.

“Our parents appreciate the reasonable precautions we take to make sure that we not only provide a secure environment, but that we know exactly what’s going on in terms of their child’s safety,” said Scott Colantonio, technology director at the Hortonville district.

The pilot program aims to allow the district to more easily track students who may get on the wrong bus or miss a bus transfer, which can leave parents worrying about where their kids are, said Harry Steenbock, the district’s transportation director. Issues occur on a daily basis, but happen more frequently when a substitute driver is on a route.

West Bend School Referendum Fails

Excellent! Nice work, neighbors.

It is good to see that even though all of the “right” people in town supported this referendum, the people still saw through the malarkey. Now we look to the School Board for actual leadership within the means of the district’s taxpayers. The fact that they are bragging about not having a Plan B speaks to their poor management of the district to date. Let’s hope that now that there isn’t a bailout on the horizon, they get serious about their jobs.


On another note, here are the results of the West Bend School Board.

What is interesting about this is that there is a significant undervote. Remember that voters were voting for two board members. Even though over 14 thousand people voted on the referendum question, the highest vote count for school board was less than 7 thousand. It’s impossible to know exactly how many people voted because people could have just voted for one candidate. But it’s likely that most people voted for two candidates as instructed, which means there was a very large undervote in this race.

Why? All three candidates ran supporting the referendum, which failed by a large margin. Without an anti-referendum choice of candidates, I’m sure that many people didn’t bother to cast a vote or wrote in (there’s an unusually large number of write-ins too). I’m one of those. I didn’t vote in this race because it didn’t matter.

I hope that the two candidates who were elected are humble enough to recognize that they would have lost had there been an anti-referendum candidate on the ballot. And shame on the conservatives in the district for the fact that there wasn’t an actual fiscal conservative on the ballot.

 

A View from Inside the Process Selling the West Bend School Referendum

This guest editorial a the Washington County Insider by Dan Krier, a former member of the CFAC, gives a damning perspective of the crooked process that led up to the current referendum. Below is the start, but please be sure to click through and read the whole thing.

March 30, 2019 – West Bend, WI – As a long-time resident of the West Bend School district, and an advocate for quality education in West Bend, I need to share my experience in regard to the proposed referendum. I have read and heard so many say it’s for education so we have to vote for it.

If it were about education I could vote for it, but it isn’t.

It is about buildings, and more specifically the maintenance of and lack of planning in regard to the buildings. And, the fact that some just want a new school to provide the fancy alternative work spaces that Bray Architectural Firm is flashing before them. We had an alternative learning program in our charter school and we chose not to fund that. Yet we want to push for the alternative space, which is what the new school is really about. Is our school district in the business of buildings, or is it education. I would choose spending on education. I went to a school built in the 1800s and when I entered West Bend East HS I was ahead of most of my class. The building certainly didn’t deter from my education.

I have been very active in getting information in regard to this referendum as I was on the Citizen Facilities Advisory Committee (CFAC). I believe this referendum will do more damage to the district than good. I was at the city council meeting when superintendent Kirkegaard presented the plan. Many of the Aldermen were concerned with the level of debt this would levy on the district. They know the city was strapped for several years under massive debt. And it was only when they got the debt under control they are able to now repair the roads that so desperately need it. They and I know that this debt will strap the district just as it did the city. The approximate $105 million of debt would dwarf that of the entire city of West Bend.

Besides the debt issue, at least one alderman had issue with the presentation stressing need. He said to Kirkegaard that while you claim you are not dictating which way to vote, it certainly sounds as if you are. Yes it was definitely a sell job as I was at several of the presentations.

This district continues to be dishonest with the citizens. And while many support the decisions, I wonder how many wouldn’t if they knew just how dishonest this process has been and the truth behind the spending. The level of dishonesty is to the point where the lack of credible planning to address objective issues, is a detriment to the district. Even many of the School Board members either don’t know enough to realize it, or are just taking an administrators word. Some said these fixes will prevent spending on maintenance in the future. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Many of the real issues have not even been addressed when instead we are fulfilling someone’s wish list. Poor planning got us to where we are today, just as the current lack of credible planning will have the district back at the table for more money in the near future. Yes another referendum in just a few short years.

Back to CFAC. We took tours of both Jackson and the high school during the first couple meetings of the CFAC. The committee was supposedly assembled to address the objective needs. But on the 4th meeting Bray presented a list of needs to the committee including 113 items from Jackson and 76 From the HS most of which we never even discussed. Objective needs like “dated doors.” Not worn, rusted or unusable, but dated. When questioning where they came from, there was a lot of uncertainty and the Bray representative finally even admitted we were not there for what we were told. We were there because the 25-year plan said Jackson and the HS are the items to address next, and we were gathered to decide on how to sell it to you the people.

Vote “No” on West Bend School Referendum

Here is a repost of my column from a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes (perhaps usually) saying “no” is the smartest thing you can do. This is TOO much money for something we DON’T need that won’t do a thing to IMPROVE education. Let’s focus out money and efforts on the kids – not monuments to the egos of adults.

On April 2, the citizens of the West Bend School District are being asked to borrow $47 million, with an estimated payback of $74 million, to build a new Jackson Elementary School and to renovate portions of the high school building. Adhering to the old wisdom that we should not spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, I will be voting “no” on the referendum. I encourage you to do the same.

Let us start with the money. $74 million is a lot of money. That should go without saying, but in the swirling debates around government spending, that fact tends to get lost. By any measure, $74 million is a LOT of money. To put that in context, there are roughly 40,000 adults in the West Bend School District. $74 million is $1,850 for every single adult in the district. That is not a trivial amount of money for most of us. That is what the school district is asking every voter to spend.

Not only is it a lot of money, it is money that we do not have — as evidenced by the fact that the district needs to borrow the money. The district is also still paying off two previous referendums. If this referendum passes, the citizens of the West Bend School District will be on the hook to pay back a whopping $106 million. Now we are up to $2,650 for every adult just to pay off the district’s debt.

And while it might be easy to brush off such debt in our current booming economy and rising housing prices, we must remember that the district intends to take out a 19-year loan for this spending. The Great Recession was only 12 years ago and there will be recessions in the future. Yet when jobs are scarce and property values are crashing again, the tax burden to pay this debt will remain. Paying off the government’s debt will come before paying for your family’s needs.

What makes the prospect of spending and borrowing this much money so incredibly irresponsible is that it will be for something that we don’t need. Sure, we might want it. Fancy new buildings are fun and cool. But we don’t need it. The Jackson Elementary building is perfectly serviceable and safe. The building has been used to safely educate kids for decades and it can continue to do so for decades if properly maintained.

The high school building could use some renovations. Consolidating the libraries is a good idea. Some of the infrastructure is due for replacing. Some classrooms could use a fresh coat of paint. But almost all of the proposed renovations are wants, not needs. The couple of needs are things that could, and should, be done as part of the normal maintenance cycle of managing a building. They should be budgeted and completed with the normal operating budget. The fact that the school district has failed to properly budget for the routine maintenance cycle of the infrastructure they own is a mark of incompetence that should not be covered with swaths of borrowed cash.

Furthermore, we can’t lose sight of the fact that enrollment is declining and is projected to do so for at least the next decade. According to the district’s own projections completed less than a year ago, total district enrollment will decline by anywhere from 15 percent (baseline method) to 23.5 percent (kindergarten trend) in 10 short years — nine years before the proposed loan is paid off. That’s over a thousand fewer kids in the district in a decade.

Specifically for Jackson Elementary, a building that once held 536 kids 10 years ago is projected to have as few as 307 kids in it 10 years from now. Is it wise for the taxpayers to borrow and spend tens of millions ofdollars to build a brandnew, colossal 82,000-squarefoot school for 43 percent fewer kids?

Finally, what continues to get lost in the debate over referendums is the purpose of a school system — to educate kids. The school district officials and other advocates for the referendum don’t even pretend that spending all of this money on pristine, new facilities will actually improve education. They rightly don’t make that claim because it is demonstrably true that the building in which education happens has nothing to do with the quality of education taking place in that building. Some of the best education in the world occurs in some of the oldest buildings. Education is an activity — not a place. All of our efforts and money should be directed to providing a great education for our kids — not building monuments to the egos of adults.

The West Bend School District has needs. With dramatically declining enrollment and mediocre educational outcomes, new and refurbished buildings are not one of them. Let us put the money we have into improving the quality of education instead of borrowing money we don’t have to pay for things we don’t need.