Category Archives: Education

Hartford School District Plans Another Tax Decrease

What a refreshing story.

A small crowd turned out for the meeting, but they approved the school district’s proposed 2018-19 budget that calls for a small decrease in the taxes district property owners will pay per thousand. The budget, which still needs the Board of Education’s final approval after they receive more financial information from the state calls for a drop from about $5.99 per thousand in 2017-18 to about $5.98 per thousand for the 2018-19 budget year.

According to information provided by the school district, the owner of a $200,000 home paid $1,198 in taxes to the district for 2017-18 and will pay slightly less for 2018-19 of about $1,196 — a decrease of about $2.

“The district total levy for the 2018-19 school year will be $9,997,988 compared with the levy of $9,788,739 for 2017-18,” said District Director of Business Services John Stellmacher. “But we are anticipating a larger drop after a significant increase in fair market values and new construction in the city of Hartford over the past year.”

Stellmacher said the balanced budget being proposed includes a 0 percent base wage increase for teaching staff but nearly $283,000 in merit pay increases for teaching staff. These increases were approved in March.

He said the district continues to use the Act 10 Tools effectively.

“Our average health insurance renewal the past 7 years has been under 2 percent. We have a rate guarantee for an under 2 percent maximum increase for 2019-20,” Stellmacher said. “The district has been able to accomplish this through purchasing power in the Waukesha County Area Schools Health Cooperative and through competitive bidding. We also have a highly engaged staff and robust wellness program that emphasizes healthy lifestyles and consumerism. Our teaching staff has a base employee contribution rate of 21 percent toward their health insurance as we’ve worked to model benefits closer to the private sector.”

Stellmacher said stability in health insurance rates has allowed the district to invest in merit pay, small elementary class sizes, facility maintenance, and high quality professional development.

Meanwhile, in West Bend, we are looking at another levy that increases the property tax levy to the maximum allowed by law, a $900k pay increase for teachers, no merit pay, and starving facility maintenance in a run-up to a massive referendum.

More money has not, and will not, improve education for our children

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

With school back in full swing, the MacIver Institute’s Ola Lisowski completed a comprehensive review of the state of education in Wisconsin. The data gives some insight into how well our education system is serving our kids and raises some questions. One is left wondering, however, why Wisconsin’s politicians insist that throwing more money into education is the only answer.

Overall, ACT achievement scores have remained flat. In 2017, the average ACT score for graduating students was 20.5. That was the exact same as in 2016. Prior to 2016, the average ACT score remained flat at 22.0 or 22.1, but there was a change in participation requirements in 2016.

Until 2016, students only took the ACT if they were intending to go to college or just wanted to take the test. Starting in 2016, Wisconsin began requiring all enrolled students to take the ACT and taxpayers pay for the exams. Although students can still opt-out, the new rules pushed the participation rate for taking the ACT from the 63.5 percent in 2015 to 92.1 percent in 2016 and 2017. The fact that a much larger number of kids are taking the ACT — including many who do not have any intention of attending college — necessarily lowers the average.

Compared to the other 16 states that require all students to take the ACT, Wisconsin’s average is third best. Only Colorado and Minnesota do better.

Another metric for which longitudinal data is available is Advanced Placement course participation and results. Average scores for AP tests have been trending slightly down since 2010. In 2011, 68 percent of students scored a 3 or better on AP exams and 65.9 percent scored that well last year. But the good news is that more and more kids are taking AP exams. Last year, 57 percent more AP exams were taken as compared to the 2010-2011 school year. Much like with the ACT, broader participation usually pushes the average down, so it is good to see so little decline with the surge in participation.

Graduation rates have increased slightly since 2011 from 87 percent to 88.6 percent in 2017. That beats the national average of 84 percent. The real news in the much better graduation rates for some minority groups. The Hispanic and Latino graduation rate jumped from 72 percent in 2011 to 79.9 percent in 2016. The graduation rate for Native American kids grew from 71.7 percent in 2011 to 77.8 percent in 2016. Asian and black graduation rates increased by 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. More kids are graduating and that is good news.

Unfortunately, we must temper the good news about the graduation rate with the data about remedial education. For many years, colleges have offered remedial education classes for incoming students.

They are classes for kids who are accepted and enrolled into the college, but need to shore up their core math or English skills.

Wisconsin began requiring in 2016 that UW System schools track which students need remedial education and the high schools that graduated those kids. The results are not good. Roughly 20 percent of all incoming students in the UW System require some form of remedial classes. These students graduated from 184 high schools. That means that almost 36 percent of Wisconsin high schools are sending kids to college who are not proficient in math or English. Not only is that indictment of those high schools, but it is a tremendous added expense to those kids who have to pay for remedial education they should have already received.

There is a lot more data on school performance. I invite you to read the overview at the MacIver Institute or dig through the Department of Public Instruction data yourself. A couple of insights bubble to the top after wading through the data. First, Wisconsin’s schools are fairly decent, for the most part, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Second, the performance has remained fairly consistent for the years despite taxpayers spending more and more every year.

This makes the politicians’ response all too disappointing. Tony Evers, the Democratic candidate for governor, has one answer to every question about education: Spend more money. This is despite the fact that spending more has no measurable impact on educational outcomes. Gov. Scott Walker has had a strong record of actual education reform, but has fallen into the same spending paradigm. This election, he is hanging his hat on the fact that Wisconsin increased spending on education and is spending more than ever.

The reason that politicians conflate more government spending with improving educational outcomes is as lazy as it is stupid. It is an easy way for them to demonstrate that they are “doing something.” In fact, they are doing nothing but wasting more money. The outcomes matter — not the spending.

More money has not, and will not, improve education for our children

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online now. Go pick up a paper, but here’s a snippet:

A couple of insights bubble to the top after wading through the data. First, Wisconsin’s schools are fairly decent, for the most part, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Second, the performance has remained fairly consistent for the years despite taxpayers spending more and more every year.

This makes the politicians’ response all too disappointing. Tony Evers, the Democratic candidate for governor, has one answer to every question about education: Spend more money. This is despite the fact that spending more has no measurable impact on educational outcomes. Gov. Scott Walker has had a strong record of actual education reform, but has fallen into the same spending paradigm. This election, he is hanging his hat on the fact that Wisconsin increased spending on education and is spending more than ever.

The reason that politicians conflate more government spending with improving educational outcomes is as lazy as it is stupid. It is an easy way for them to demonstrate that they are “doing something.” In fact, they are doing nothing but wasting more money. The outcomes matter — not the spending.

West Bend Annual Meeting, Budget, and Tax Levy

This post is going to be a little long, so strap yourself in. If you live in the West Bend School District, you’ll want to read it. The rest of y’all should find a good college football game to watch.

On Monday, the voters of the West Bend School District are invited to attend the Annual Meeting of Electors. This is an annual meeting where, theoretically, the voters approve some of the big ticket items like the tax levy and budget. In reality, all of the votes are non-binding, so the School Board can still do whatever they want. Still, it is an opportunity for voters to show up and have their voices heard.

On the agenda this year is:

7. Consideration of Proposed Resolutions

a. Resolution No. 1 – Tax Levy

b. Resolution No. 2 – Disposal of District Property

c. Resolution No. 3 – Board Member Compensation

d. Resolution No. 4 – 2019-20 Annual Meeting Date

The only thing we have any information on is the proposed budget and tax levy, so the voters will be walking in blind to whatever the resolutions are about board member compensation and the disposal of district property. We’re going to take a deeper look at the budget and tax levy, but first, let’s discuss the process a little.

In years past, the West Bend School Board began its budget process in the spring. If I remember correctly (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong), we usually got a preliminary budget in the April/May time frame. That high-level preliminary budget was posted on the district web site and the people had some time with it.

This year, the first appearance of a preliminary budget from the school district that I saw was last Tuesday morning – after the Monday night board meeting.  Perhaps it was posted Monday night. But now the Electors are being asked to vote on it a week later. One. Week. That’s all the voters get to read it and understand it. There hasn’t been any time for the media or interested parties to ask questions. There hasn’t even been another board meeting where citizens could voice their opinions on it. There is really no excuse for this kind of opaqueness from the West Bend School Board. They have had this information for months, but failed to be transparent about it. Their lack of transparency is not incompetence. It is willful.


That being said, let’s look at the budget. As we get into it, we must remember the context of this budget. The West Bend School Board just postponed action on a $85 million referendum. Budgets are where we define our priorities. There is always an unlimited list of needs/wants (the distinction between the two often being in the eye of the beholder) and a limited amount of money to pay for it. The budget is where you have to prioritize that list.

 

There are two versions of the West Bend School District’s Preliminary Budget. Here is the summary document that is being provided for the meeting on Monday. Here is a slightly more detailed version that was presented at the School Board meeting last week. Neither version is nearly as detailed as what other districts, like Slinger, provides. Again… transparency…

Let’s start with the revenue side of the budget. There are two primary sources of revenue for a Wisconsin school district – the local property tax levy and state aid. The West Bend School District is facing a demographic and societal shift that is causing a decline in enrollment for the foreseeable future. The estimates range between a 10% and 20% decline in enrollment in the next 10 years. This is a significant impact on the state aid that the district receives because it is based on enrollment. Also, enrollment affects the property tax levy limit for the district. In short, the West Bend School District is facing a sustained period of declining revenue. In the preliminary budget (focusing on the operating budget and not the special parts), we see this manifest in a projected $233,405 decrease in revenue.

That decrease in overall revenue is despite a property tax hike. The School District wants to increase the property tax levy by $928,249 – the maximum amount allowed by law. Most of this is offset by a decrease in the levy due to some debt service coming off the books, so the impact will be minimal. But taxpayers could be enjoying a rare tax decrease if not for the School Board’s desire to tax to the max.

In light of that fact, let’s take a closer look at the spending side of the budget. Overall, the preliminary budget proposes a $1.3 million spending increase. You’re reading that right. The preliminary budget has a structural $1.4 million deficit.

The School District must have a balanced budget, so they are raiding their reserve fund to fill the gap. Superintendent Don Kirkegard acknowledges that this is not sustainable and he will be working to bend the district’s cost into the revenue number next year. I cut him some slack because he has only been on the job since July and was handed this budget. Also, he comes from another state and it takes a little time to learn the Wisconsin Way of school budgeting. This budget is the product of the interim Superintendent, staff, and most of all, the School Board.

What is driving the spending increase? Almost all of it is due to a planned compensation increase for the teaching staff. Although salary negotiations are still underway, this budget includes a 2.1% base salary increase. That is the maximum that the School Board would have to give under Act 10. That amounts to a $929,853 compensation increase. That umber is a little misleading because the budget number includes benefits, salary, and headcount fluctuations. But based on the commentary at the school board meeting last week, that number is about right. They are planning roughly a $900k salary increase.

The other increases are scattered around the budget. It is a little hard to tease them out because the district is also reallocating a lot of expenses. According to the Superintendent, they are working on reallocating expenses to the building level so that they can have better visibility to where the expenses are actually being spent. That’s a good thing, but it makes year-to-year trending data difficult.


The story of this budget is not really what it does, but what it doesn’t do. The West Bend School Board is facing declining enrollment and, consequently, declining revenue. Next year they are planning to ask the taxpayers to dig deeper into their family budgets and pay more for bigger, newer facilities. This budget is the School Board’s statement of priorities before asking the taxpayers for more money and they chose to kick the can down the road another year. They are choosing to not make any hard decisions nor demonstrate that they will be good stewards if the taxpayers give them almost the equivalent of an entire year’s budget to spend all at once.

Here are just a couple things this budget does not do:

Maintenance. Many of the facilities needs that are driving the perceived need for a referendum are due to years of poor maintenance. Jackson Elementary is old and falling apart, they tell us. The High School building needs serious renovations and repairs, we’re told. I defy anyone to look at the preliminary budget and determine what the school district spends to maintain their facilities. There isn’t a line item for it. According to the Superintendent, the large, capital projects like roof replacements and such are covered by the Capital Projects Fund and is about $2.3 million. More routing maintenance like carpet replacements, door repairs, fixture replacements, light bulbs, etc. are kind of tucked into the “other support services” or “central services” budget items. But those line items blend a lot of “catch all” expenses.

It is safe to say, however, that despite these pressing needs that are fueling a referendum discussion, the budget makes no serious effort to spend more on maintenance.

I tried to find some good benchmarks for what schools should spend on maintenance, but they are hard to come by. This data from the Building Owners and Managers Association says that for office space (roughly equivalent), people spend about $8.07 per square foot for annual operating expenses. That number includes some things like security, administration, etc. that are not really pertinent in a school setting. If we just include repairs, maintenance, cleaning, etc., it’s about $4 per square foot per year. The West Bend School District has 1,141,656 sq. feet of building space – not including grounds, sports fields, parking lots, etc. It is reasonable to expect that the district needs to spend $4 to $4.5 million per year just to keep their facilities reasonable cleaned and maintained. I don’t see anything near that much in the budget even as I add up the line items.

This points to a trend of School Districts intentionally under-funding maintenance, allowing facilities to decline into disrepair, and then pushing for a referendum to make up for their neglect. This budget looks like it will continue that trend.

Labor Costs. Without a doubt, labor costs are the largest expense in any school district budget. If the School Board is ever going to control costs and bring them in line with revenue projections, they have to control the cost of labor. There are only a few ways to do that. They can cut overall compensation – salaries and benefits. They can reduce the number of employees. Or they can force employee churn to create a younger, cheaper workforce.

At some point, the district needs to reduce the number of employees. There are fewer and fewer kids to teach. Therefore, there will need to be fewer and fewer teachers, administrators, and support staff to serve those kids. This needs to be done intelligently and carefully, but it needs to be done.

The School Board and this budget fail to take advantage of Act 10 to control the overall compensation costs for the employees. Employees still have a sweetheart deal on benefits. The School Board is assuming a maximum base salary increase. The School Board has not implemented merit pay or other performance-driven compensation models. They haven’t done much of anything. The compensation package for West Bend School District employees looks much like it could have in 1999 or 2005.

Once again, this budget just kicks the can down the road and fails to do anything about rising labor costs in the face of declining revenue.


The preliminary budget for the West Bend School District sends a very clear message to the citizens of the district. Despite virulent protestations about needing tens of millions of dollars in a referendum to pay for critical facilities, the School Board intends to just keep doing the same thing as if there isn’t any need at all. They are not making any hard choices or shifting any additional spending to address those needs. They are also not addressing the structural funding issues that are already impacting the district’s revenue. The School Board is planning to ask the taxpayers to dig deeper into their family budgets and give up their own priorities, but the School Board is refusing to dig deeper into their own budget. Instead, they are doing what far too many school boards do: tax to the max; give employees as much of an increase as possible; starve facilities; refuse to innovate; keep doing everything the same way and wondering why you keep getting the same results.

I will believe that there is a crisis in the West Bend School District when they begin acting like it. This budget sends the message that the School Board thinks everything is fine the way it is.

UW-Whitewater’s Chancellor’s Husband Banned From Campus #metoo

This is the most Clinton excuse ever.

Most recently, a female employee told an investigator last spring that Hill squeezed her knee under a table “not less than three times.” The employee sat between Hill and Kopper at the April 2018 event.

Hill told the investigator it was one time, not three, and that he had to move her leg so he could reach his own to massage a cramp in his calf.

Oh, here’s the context:

The University of Wisconsin System banned the husband of UW-Whitewater’s chancellor from campus and ended his unpaid appointment after a sexual harassment investigation found “merit” to the allegations made against him.

Chancellor Beverly Kopper announced the news in a statement Friday, saying that she “fully supported and cooperated with” the System’s investigation against her husband, Alan “Pete” Hill.

Budgets are About Priorities

And MPS’ priorities are clear. Ouch.

So imagine my surprise when, thanks to the Facebook page for an upcoming high school reunion, I learned the school is getting a new $5.7 million stadium. The stadium will have artificial grass and a new track for WIAA events. The report I saw didn’t mention metal detectors, but it would be a good idea.

The new stadium is part of an $11 million improvement in athletic facilities for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), presumably so the little convicts can have the best facilities before being sent to the penitentiary.

So the next time someone tells you that MPS needs more money, remind them that more money does not mean a better academic performance. And if they ask for evidence, ask them if $5.7 million could be better spent than on a new stadium for a failing school. And then ask them if the students would be better off with a new track instead of shutting the school down entirely.

At least the artificial turf matches the artificial concern of Wisconsin’s Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers, for the well-being of MPS students. Perhaps the new scoreboard can flash the number of kids being pushed through the system without learning anything – not that any of the students will be able to read it.

James Wigderson
Editor
RightWisconsin

Taxpayers On Hook for Illegal Promise by UWO Chancellor

Ugh.

OSHKOSH – The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh must pay $15 million to cover the debts of the university’s private foundation in connection to several high-profile building projects, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

That puts the foundation’s outstanding debt, ultimately, on the taxpayers of Wisconsin. However, the state can, and likely will, appeal the decision.

Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Susan Kelley issued a partial summary judgment Wednesday, saying letters from two former UW-Oshkosh administrators, promising to use university money to bail out the foundation, constitute enforceable contracts and therefore must be honored.

Irrespective of what the letters said, the administrators were not legally permitted to make that commitment on behalf of the taxpayers any more than I am. It seems to me that the Foundation’s recourse is to sue the former administrators.

Evil Foxconn Gives $100 Million to UW

Boy, I sure hope that Evers can kill the Foxconn deal. /sarcasm

Foxconn Technology Group will invest $100 million to UW-Madison that will go toward establishing an interdisciplinary research facility for the College of Engineering, the largest research partnership in the university’s history.

The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology, or FIRST, will collaborate closely with the company’s Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park near Racine.

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou joined UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for the Monday announcement, signing several agreements formalizing their relationship.

The gift is one of the largest in the school’s history, Blank said, and will help develop Wisconsin’s research and engineering talent.

West Bend Referendum Fight is Not Over

The citizens of West Bend received a reprieve last night when the West Bend School Board decided to suspend the referendum effort. “Suspend” is the key word. At the meeting, School Board President Joel Ongert made it clear that he wants to put a referendum on the April or possibly next November ballot. It is worth noting that those elections also historically have much lower turnout. That makes it easier for the referendum to pass (if you’d like me to explain this, I will, but I think y’all get it).

Ongert also made a comment that he thought that the needs at the high schools warranted $60 million! In the current referendum proposal, they are asking for $31 million for the high schools. Ongert wants to spend so. much. more.

Over the next few months as the citizens of the West Bend School District and their School Board consider the prospect of a referendum, we should keep some hard numbers in mind.

$215 million. That is how much the taxpayers will be obligated to pay back if the referendum being considered is approved. The district already owes about $130 million due to the passage of previous referenda. If the referendum passes, it will bring that total to about $215 million in owed interest and principal.

$2,125. There are about 40,000 adults who live in the West Bend School District. If the $50 million referendum being considered passes, the share for each adult is $2,125. Each adult’s share of the total $215 million debt would be about $5,200.

$5.3 million. The taxpayers currently spend about $5.3 million per year on paying down debt. That is $5.3 million that is not spent on educating kids. It is being spent on paying off buildings. That number will increase substantially if the referendum being considered passes.

20. Under the proposal outlined by Baird for the School Board, it will take 20 years to pay off new referendum debt. On the payment schedule presented by Baird at the August 13th school board meeting, the taxpayers will paying only the interest payments for the first nine years. The taxpayers will not pay down a single dollar of the principal until the tenth year.

2.7%. Despite having the authority under Act 10 to control labor expenses, employees of the West Bend School District can still get a family health insurance plan for as little as $49 per month. That is 2.7% of the total cost of the plan. The taxpayers pay the remaining 97.3%.

307. Using the Kindergarten Trend Projection Model, which extrapolates kindergarten enrollment trends to forecast future enrollment, there will be 307 kids in Jackson Elementary in nine years. That compares to the 371 kids who were in the school last year and the 535 kids in the same building at the most recent peak in 2010. That is a 43% decline in student population in the Jackson Elementary building, but also includes the reconfiguration of grades that occurred in 2014.

5,289. Using the same projection model, the entire West Bend School District will have an enrollment of 5,289 kids in the 2027-2028 school year. That compares to the 6,634 kids in the last school year and 6,843 kids in the district in the most recent peak year of 2009. That is a 20% decline in enrollment over the next decade.

Different project models give slightly different numbers, but the declining enrollment matches the trend that the school district has seen in recent years. Due to generally lower birth rates, open enrollment, the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program, and demographic shifts, the West Bend School District is seeing the same declining enrollment as many other Wisconsin school districts.

21%. In the most recent open enrollment figures, 21% of the kids who open enrolled out of the West Bend School District left to attend a virtual school. While the West Bend School Board wants to invest in buildings, families are seeking out modern ways to get a quality education.

20. The world of education is not immune from the societal and technological transformations taking place around us. Educational delivery methods now include online and hybrid learning, collaboration with industries, augmented reality, and so much more. The West Bend School Board is asking to spend $85 million on a 20th century education model.

Zero. If the voters approve allowing the West Bend School Board to dump tens of millions of dollars into buildings, they can expect zero improvements in educational outcomes. It has been proven time and time again that once the basic safety and space needs for school buildings are met, spending more on buildings does not result in better education.

For recent evidence, look at the test scores and graduation rates in the West Bend School District since the other school building referendums were passed. According to DPI data, all of the results are flat or declining. The new Badger and renovated Silverbrook schools look fantastic, but they did not make any kids smarter. That is why the school board has wisely not even attempted to claim that it will improve education in the district.

There are a lot of things that the West Bend School Board could do to try to improve education for the children under their care. Dumping money into fancy buildings is not one of them.

West Bend School Board Suspends Referendum Effort

Huzzah, huzzah… the West Bend School Board came to its senses and decided against putting a referendum on the ballot in November. They haven’t abandoned the effort yet, but at least they are pumping the brakes for a bit. The Washington County Insider has video of the discussion and details from the meeting. Here are some highlights:

“We have until next Tuesday to tell the county clerk what our intentions are,” he said.  “Are we going to a referendum in November and potential questions and how do we want it to look.” Board member Chris Zwygart spoke first and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.  “I’m not sure we’re ready to move forward. The board has a number questions,” said Zwygart.

Board member Ken Schmidt said he had doubts. “I question need and want,” said Schmidt.  “Those are two questions I have. Some things I see as needs with safety and that is a big need but here again I really have some questions about right sizing. Those are the two biggies.”

Schmidt also expressed concern about the cost to taxpayers in the future. “There’s no guarantee with a phenomenal economy. I’m a realist and there are cycles. I’ve seen several in my lifetime but I have sincere reservations.”

[…]

A couple of leaders from the West Bend School Board spoke after the meeting.

After the meeting Zwygart said as a person, “We have unanswered questions and limited time between now and the time of the election (Nov. 6, 2018) that just does not set us up for success as it relates to transparency with the voters and so I’m pleased with the decision.”

In particular, hats off to board members Chris Zwygart and Ken Schmidt for being good stewards of the taxpayers’ interests. Board members Joel Ongert and Tiffany Larson still seem hell bent on dumping tens of millions of dollars on buildings. This isn’t over. The debate continues…

“I would have to vote no and send the administration back to the drawing board.”

The West Bend School Board will vote today to put an $85 million referendum on the ballot. Here’s an interesting letter to the editor that originally ran on the Washington County Insider:

August 20, 2018 – West Bend, WI – I believe it is important to include the interest cost on the referendum so people know for a fact, what they will be paying.

I was on the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee and am very disappointed in the entire process of the decision to go to referendum.

The entire process has once again been less than honest. While we are following a 25 year plan, in what world of business do we have a 25 year plan without the plan on how to pay for it.

If I were to vote today, I would have to vote no and send the administration back to the drawing board.

There are way too many issues to address before moving forward on a building plan.

Being on the CFAC committee I had a first hand look at the issues they say they are trying to correct.  I could see many of them stemmed from very poor planning and execution to begin with.

These are things that have to be addressed so we don’t spend $85 plus million today and end up with the same issue in the future.

Dan Krier

West Bend

 

West Bend School Board Calls Special Meeting to Put Referendum on Ballot

As usual with this board… public notice posted on the business day before the meeting. Apparently, they only anticipate 3 minutes of public participation.

NOTICE OF SPECIAL BOARD OF EDUCATION MEETING

Education Service Center

735 S. Main Street, West Bend

Board Room

August 20, 2018 6:00 pm

NOTICE TO THE PUBLIC AUDIENCE: A) At the regular and special meetings of the Board of Education, the President of the Board will honor requests of the public to speak to any item prior to the President’s closing of public participation. Persons requesting to be heard shall register their written requests to the Board President and identify themselves by name and address. Based on the number of requests, the President may set a time limit for all persons to speak. Persons wishing to speak a second time must register a second time. A person may speak a maximum of three (3) minutes; however, the President may limit the time, depending on the number of persons requesting to address the Board. B) Due to time constraints, Agenda items may be taken out of order. C) The time schedule is used as a guide. Times are approximate.

AGENDA

6:00      1. Call to Order 2. Pledge of Allegiance

6:01      3. Approval of Agenda

6:02      4. Public Participation 5. Action Items

6:05      a. Possible referendum election November 6, 2018

6:15      b. Potential referendum question(s) 6. Adjourn

Evers Threatens Education for Thousands of Choice Students

True.

Yesterday, State Superintendent Tony Evers won the Democratic Primary for governor. While Evers may come off much like a friendly grandfather—affable and harmless—it is important to recognize that he represents a threat to school choice in Wisconsin, even more so than previous Democrat gubernatorial candidates. Evers has a long record of opposing education reform that needs to be highlighted.

His stance on school choice may kick thousands of low-income Milwaukee students out of their schools

Evers has threatened to end Wisconsin’s school choice programs unless a number of untenable reforms are implemented. Without such changes, enrollment in the programs would be frozen. Voucher schools, particularly in Milwaukee, are reliant on a continual stream of students to remain viable. Freezing enrollment would effectively mean these schools would shut down and more than 27,000 low-income families in Milwaukee would be left with no option but to return to the low-performing Milwaukee Public Schools.

Investing in a 20th Century Education Model

Here’s an interesting bit of data from a report about Open Enrollment that was presented to the West Bend School Board last night. According to that report, 452 kids left the district through open enrollment compared to 193 who entered the district. That’s a net outflow of 259 kids. Of those who left, 19%, or about 85 kids, left to go to a virtual school. And of all of those who left, the top two reasons given for leaving were convenience or they moved. In other words, the physical location of the school buildings didn’t work for the family.

In the 21st century, why does the School Board want to invest tens of millions of dollars in physical buildings instead of investing in modern education delivery models?

UPDATE: I may be reading the colors on their pie chart wrong. It looks like it might actually be 21% left for virtual schools. Hopefully we can see the raw data at some point.

West Bend School Board Meets About Referendum Tonight

The West Bend School Board will be meeting tonight. Part of the agenda is to plan the referendum they plan to put on the ballot in November. If you’d like to attend, here are the details.

Education Service Center

735 S. Main Street, West Bend

August 13, 2018

6:30 pm

They are also taking a look at the preliminary budget for next year. That should be interesting.

Cedarburg Moves Forward With Referendum After Biased Survey

As I’ve been saying for months, the big spenders have found a formula for passing a school referendum in conservative communities. They followed it in Kewaskum and are following it to the letter in Cedarburg and West Bend. Part of that formula is hiring School Perceptions to conduct a propaganda campaign in the form of a survey. MacIver got a peek behind the curtain in Cedarburg.

MADISON – Cedarburg School District officials are moving forward with a referendum asking voters to approve $59.8 million in new spending. However, local critics say the decision to go ahead with the referendum was based on the results of a biased survey that was designed to show overwhelming community support whether it existed or not.

Documents obtained by the MacIver News Service through an open records request show at least one Cedarburg School Boardmember and several community members were concerned the community survey the district commissioned to gauge interest in the huge spending spree could be more of a marketing tool to justify the costly proposal.

The district has been working with controversial consultant School Perceptions on the community survey. The Slinger-based firm has assisted hundreds of school districts seeking to pass large spending requests, including many in southeastern Wisconsin. 

Radio host Mark Belling has chronicled School Perceptions’ dubious business practices. With the firm’s help, “…school boards and superintendents are using public money to mislead their residents and pretending to conduct honest surveys,” Belling wrote in a Waukesha Freeman column earlier this year.

The survey, sent out in May, found that 60 percent of respondents would advise the Cedarburg School Board to pursue the referendum.

However, not all respondents were treated equally, according to the behind the scenes conversations. Staff and parents of CSD students were emailed links to an online version of the survey, while most local residents got a paper version in the mail. This was not done by accident.

“The plan all along was to email the survey to parents, teachers, and staff. All residents within our school district boundaries have or will receive the survey via the mail. Additional surveys are available for families if needed,” Bugnacki wrote on May 9 in an email responding to Cedarburg School Board member David Krier.

Krier was critical of this methodology. “We should consider whether this might skew the survey results,” he wrote.

On top of that, there was a lack of consistency on how the paper surveys were mailed out. Cedarburg town and city residents got their surveys through the US Postal Service’s bulk mail program. Those who lived out of town, but still in the district, however received a 6-by-9 inch envelope with the survey folded in half, addressed to “resident,” according to the Cedarburg News Graphic newspaper.

“(We are) realizing now that some did not receive or perceived this a junk mailer and threw it away,” Cedarburg School district communications coordinator Karen Egelhoff told the News Graphic.

Increase in West Bend Teacher Salaries Since Act 10

Again to refute the claim made by a West Bend teacher in the newspaper that, “This would be the second double-digit teacher pay cut in eight years”… here’s the average salary data from DPI:

2011wbsalaries

2016wbsalaries

As you can see, the average salaries in the district are way up since the passage of Act 10. And the average experience of the teaching staff has also increased. It also looks like the average cost of fringe benefits have decreased. I’d like to see more data behind that to see if the decrease is due to an actual decrease in costs or just that fewer employees are taking some of the more expensive benefits.

The data does show a dip in the average salary in 2012. That was a year that saw higher teacher retirements in the wake of Act 10. The dip corresponds with a decrease in the average local tenure of the teaching staff. In other words, the departure of old, expensive teachers at the end of their careers were replaced with younger, less expensive teachers. It was not a cut in pay. It was a change in the age demographic of the staff. Since then, the average salary and average local tenure have increased together.

The assertion that West Bend’s teachers have experienced a pay cut is demonstrably false.

But again… merit pay has nothing to do with cutting pay. It has everything to do with rewarding better teachers who can achieve better results for our kids. As a taxpayer, I’m willing to pay more for better results. I am not willing to pay more for fancy buildings. Let’s reward, attract, and retain great teachers with merit pay instead of sinking more money into real estate.

Mayville teacher reprimanded for anti-Trump “art”

This is good to see. Granted, it’s a slap on the wrist, but at least it is something of an acknowledgement that this was inappropriate.

This past June, residents and parents in Mayville, WI were shocked to see a vulgar, profane piece of anti-Trump protest “art” displayed prominently at a MIDDLE SCHOOL art show.   The “art” was created by a HS junior in Mayville in an art class taught by teacher Sarah Heideman.  Heideman thought the poster was super swell, and so she sent it off to the MIDDLE SCHOOL to be displayed.

The adults loved the anti-Trump message so much, they selected it as the “winner” to be sent to an exhibit state wide.

Read the story by Judy Steffes from Washington County Insider here:

VULGAR ANTI TRUMP ART DISPLAY

Here is the poster displayed at the middle school:

anti trump protest art

ONLY after an Open Records Request filed by CRG’s Orville Seymer did the district finally do its job and reprimand the teacher.  She’ll have a reprimand on her permanent record.

Good.  The teacher darn well knew better.  She knew the policy.  She just didn’t care.  And neither did nearly everyone else.  Why?  It has nothing to do with any sort of appreciation for free speech or protest art.  The art itself was pretty standard fare and not terribly creative.  The adults in the school district simply LIKED the message because they DON’T like Trump.

West Bend teachers did get raises

Former West Bend School Board President, Rick Parks, also took issue with Jason Penterman’s letter to the editor in response to my column.

To the editor: While I do understand that Jason Penterman’s recent letter to the editor on behalf of the West Bend Education Association was provoked by Owen Robinson’s column on upcoming school referendums, that doesn’t relieve Jason of the need to be accurate in what he publishes.

The WBEA has presented the implementation of Act 10 as a pay cut to teachers since it was enacted in 2011. That’s just not true. Act 10 simply required school districts to pass on a percent of the cost for health insurance and retirement plans to employees, just like your employers do where you work. Did that reduce take-home pay? Yes. Does it reduce your takehome pay when your employer passes on your portion of these costs to you? Also yes, but most people would not present this as a pay cut.

Jason also misrepresents the merit pay system that was in place for many years in the West Bend School District. When he says “many veteran employees have received no pay increases for six-plus years” he also distorts reality. At the time I left the school board in April 2017, about 94 percent of the teaching staff received pay increases. The 6 percent that did not were on a performance improvement plan. I can’t say how that played out for veteran versus novice teachers, but knowing the range of experience in the district at that time it’s safe to say that almost all veteran teachers were receiving pay increases.

During my time on the school board I regularly pointed out to my board colleagues that Act 10 did make a real impact on real people’s pocketbook. I never discounted that. But after seven years it’s time to get over it and move on. It’s also time to stop distorting the facts.

Rick Parks

West Bend

West Bend Teacher Rejects Merit Pay

A couple of weeks ago the Washington County Daily News published my column regarding the upcoming school referendum in West Bend. In that column, I argued that it is not appropriate for the West Bend School Board to ask for more money because (1) fancy buildings don’t lead to better student outcomes, (2) enrollment is declining, and (3) the School Board has failed to be good steward of the money they already have. As examples of poor stewardship, I pointed out that the School Board overpays for insurance and employees pay far below the average for their share of that benefit. I also argued that the School Board has abandoned Merit Pay for their employees. There was a lot in that column…

Anyway, longtime West Bend School District employee and union stalwart, Jason Penterman, took issue with some of the column in a letter to the editor yesterday. Let’s take a look at his feedback. After a preamble, Penterman gets to the meat of his criticism in the last paragraph. Let’s attempt to unpack it:

On July 24, Owen Robinson wrote he’s against any West Bend School District building referendum until the School Board enacts teacher merit pay and makes the employees pay an additional $7,954 for health insurance.

True, kind of. The $7,954 figure is what employees would pay if the district payed the average rate for insurance and asked employees to pay the average percentage for their share. I don’t think that the district necessarily needs to get to that number, but something more than the $49 a month that some employees pay for a family plan would be appropriate.

This would be the second double-digit teacher pay cut in eight years.

To my knowledge, that is not true. As I recall, shortly after Act 10 was passed, the School Board made some changes in the step system to change how fast employees could get raises, but I don’t believe they ever received an actual pay cut. I could be wrong. Even so, there are many people who have received pay cuts in their careers. It happens. It’s never fun, but it happens. And asking teachers to pay a more reasonable share of their generous benefits is not a pay cut.

The current teacher merit pay system originally cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, wasted thousands of school hours on meaningless, multiple choice assessments and turned children into numbers.

That’s the perspective of a teacher who didn’t like merit pay. Generally speaking, when people are held to a higher standard of performance for doing a job, they don’t like it. This is particularly true for people who are not very good at their jobs. Accountability sucks when you are used to having free rein.

The community rejected this.

Really? I don’t recall a community vote on this. A merit pay system was never fully implemented in the district. The previous Superintendent and School Board abandoned the idea with nary a discussion.

Why do that again?

Because holding employees accountable for their performance is how the rest of the world works. The taxpayers of West Bend deserve to know that they are getting good results for their investment. Furthermore, great teachers love merit pay because they can maximize their compensation. An aggressive merit pay system would help attract the best teachers to our district. In the end, would it cost more? Perhaps. If we can get better student outcomes with better employees, I think that’s something taxpayers would be willing to pay for.

With the understanding that unfair pay systems and severe employee pay cuts will damage a company’s ability to attract and retain quality employees and this will damage its product and reputation…

Merit pay does not equal pay cuts. Penterman seems to make that assumption. But the only employees who receive pay cuts under a merit pay system are those who are bad at their jobs. Good employees receive bigger, faster pay raises. In fact, very few merit pay systems actuall cut anyone’s pay. They merely heavily weight pay increases to the better performers.

why would anyone support Robinson’s demand for merit pay and that West Bend School District’s teachers undergo another 10 percent to 15 percent pay cut to get a building referendum passed at the expense of the West Bend, Jackson, Newburg, Polk, Trenton, Barton, and Addison students, parents, taxpayers, businesses and communities?

Where did he pull the 10% to 15% pay cut out of? Who said that? But Penterman seems to be fine with forcing every homeowner to forgo the use of their earned income an pay more taxes for new buildings. For what? Fewer kids in those buildings and the same educational outcomes? The goal of merit pay is to improve the actual education delivered to our children by attracting and rewarding the best educators. I’d rather put more money in the good teachers’ pockets than in the pockets of builders and architects.