Category Archives: Education

New School in Washington County

That property has been wasting out there for years. I’m glad to see that it will be put to such good use!

TOWN OF TRENTON — Ozaukee Christian School has announced it is moving into a new building, taking over a former gentlemen’s club in Trenton.

The building at 1204-1274 Highway 33 is being purchased from Spearmint Rhino, a Californiabased franchise of strip clubs and gentlemen’s clubs. For Ozaukee Christian School, the unusual building conversion is an answer to prayer that ends a years-long search for a space to call their own.

“God has given the leadership of OCS a big vision for growth while providing us what we need for each step of this project,” said Dave Swartz, OCS board president.

OCS is a nondenominational Christian school founded in 1990 that has had several homes over the years. The school started at Portview Christian Center in Port Washington, then moved to Friedens Church in Port, back to Portview and then to St. John XXIII in Saukville for the last 19 years.

“We have felt God leading us to a building of our own that will allow us to grow, to expand our ability to work with special needs children and to reach more families in Washington County, all the while maintaining strong ties with our families in Ozaukee County,” OCS Administrator Kris Austin said.

OCS is purchasing the strip mall that includes the former Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club with the intention of renovating the spaces into classrooms, offices, a cafeteria and a multipurpose room. Future additions planned include a gym with stage and locker rooms and a new classroom wing.

Curious Happenings in the West Bend School District

It’s been a curious day in the West Bend School District. Here’s the scoop…

The School District has a policy that states, “It shall be the policy of West Bend Joint School District No. 1 to provide disclosure to District
residents and taxpayers regarding the total costs of any proposed referendum…” The stated intent and purpose of the policy is that the school district will disclose the full cost of a referendum – including the interest cost – on every district communication about the referendum.

Last week, the school district sent out a third (yes, you read that right) mailing about the referendum. In it, they did not disclose the full cost. Some concerned citizens filed a formal complaint against the school district for violating the policy.

That’s when things started getting weird…

I got an email this morning from the district’s HR Director at 9:18 telling me that there would be a press conference at 11 AM. There are several things odd about this. First, this is the first time the school district has reached out to me proactively under this superintendent. Second, why is the HR Director doing this? The school district employs a full time PR flak. Isn’t that her job? And if not her, why not the Superintendent himself? This is not a reflection on the HR Director. I appreciate his effort. It’s just an odd task for him to be doing. Third, I’ve been following the West Bend School District for over 15 years. This is the first time I ever recall them having a press conference. Ever. And they do so with less than two hours’ notice? Very odd.

Then there was the press conference… I couldn’t attend. I have a job. But the HR Director was kind enough to send me a full recording. The press conference was only about 15 minutes. In it, the superintendent acknowledged that a complaint was filed, but he refused to admit that the school district violated the policy. Instead, he said that the district would be send out a FOURTH mailing, at taxpayers’ expense, that would include the full cost of the referendum. The superintendent refused to explain the policy in question and refused to admit any wrongdoing. Yet, the entire press conference and reaction was clearly a reaction to the complaint. In fact, the response is in line with what the complaint demanded. If they didn’t do anything wrong, then why is the district conducting the remedy demanded in the complaint?

Then, intrepid reporter Judy Steffes asked who filed the complaint and if she could have a copy. Superintendent Kirkegaard refused to say and told her to file an open records request. Why? A complaint is clearly public information. Why not just share it? Why make someone jump through hoops? Isn’t the entire purpose of a press conference to give information to the press? And if the school district is doing all of this in the name of transparency, then why not be, you know, transparent?

This whole fiasco seems to be another chapter in the story of incompetence, duplicity, and waste that have become the hallmarks of the current West Bend School District leadership.

West Bend School Board Accused of Violating Policy

It’s pretty clear that they violated it. I understand that there was a press conference to address this today, but I haven’t seen their excuse. You have to love the response from the school board president. He clearly wants to be transparent and serve the community  :roll:

March 25, 2019 – West Bend, WI – A formal complaint is expected to be filed today against the West Bend School Board in connection with knowingly violating policy on a campaign mailer.

During a regular meeting this past January 14, 2019 the School Board discussed putting a referendum on the April 2 Spring Nonpartisan Election ballot. Board member Ken Schmidt questioned the level of transparency the district would provide taxpayers. Cited was Policy 615which stated the total referendum amount with interest would have to be placed on all mailers, marketing material, and discussed at informational meetings.

“In my opinion it should be plastered on our website, anything our construction firm puts out mailer wise, … yes, absolutely it should be shared just like we’re talking about it now,” said board president Joel Ongert. “Very publicly, there’s nothing to hide here. You borrow money, you’re going to pay interest on it. Like the attorney said, the interest is borne by the taxpayer it’s just not going to be on the question.”

During the meeting board member Chris Zwygart quoted Policy 615. (see copy of policy below)

 

 

“And to answer Mr. Schmidt’s question, ‘If the proposal is adopted by the board any additional communications, mail materials, postings, communication to the media, presentations at board meetings, other meetings in the community need to disclose those items as well.’ So it does appear to be an information proposal requirement,” said Zwygart.

Apparently a mailer distributed throughout the West Bend School District on Friday, March 22, 2019 failed to disclose the $74 million referendum total as required in Policy 615.

[…]

Emails have been placed to board president Ongert and board members Tiffany Larson, Kurt Rebholz, Chris Zwygart, and Ken Schmidt.

Zwygart did respond via email and indicated he would have more information on Monday, March 25.

Ongert responded via district email and said he was on spring break and stated, “Leave me alone.”

Vote ‘no’ on foolish referendum

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

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.

Vote ‘no’ on foolish referendum

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a sample, but go pick up a copy.

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.

[…]

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.

 

More Spending Does not Make for Better Education

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty looks at the data.

The Report:Truth in Spending: An Analysis of K-12 Spending in Wisconsin, by Research Director Will Flanders, PhD lays out the facts about K-12 spending in Wisconsin, where Wisconsin ranks nationally, and which school districts are getting the most bang for the buck. Most notably, using the most recent year of data available from DPI, Dr. Flanders examined the relationship of K-12 spending on public schools and student outcomes. The findings include:

  • K-12 education spending in Wisconsin is in-line with the rest of the country. Wisconsin spends more money, on average, than the majority of states; $600 per pupil more than the median state.
  • Wisconsin, like the United States, spends far more on education – and gets less for it – than economically developed countries in Europe and Asia. Of 41 OECD countries with data, spending in Wisconsin would rank 4th. The United States as a whole would rank 6th. Yet performance on the PISA science and reading ranks 30th. We can do better.
  • An econometric analysis finds no relationship between higher spending and outcomes in Wisconsin. On average, high-spending districts perform the same or worse on state mandated exams and the ACT relative to low-spending districts.
    • For instance, Slinger and Hartford are examples of districts that spend significantly less than the state average while achieving Forward Exam performance that is significantly higher. In contrast, White Lake and Bayfield have woeful proficiency rates despite spending far more than the average district.
    • The only exception is graduation rates, where higher spending does have some relationship to higher rates of graduation.
  • Private choice schools and charter schools in Wisconsin do more with less.These schools achieve better academic outcomes despite spending thousands less per student than traditional public schools.

It shows what it always shows… more money does not produce better educational outcomes UNLESS that money is spent differently. If you are paying the same teachers to do the same thing, but just paying them more, then you are just going to get the same results. If you take the same money and use it to incent excellence, then you’ll get better results.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin has had static performance for decades while we continue to pour more and more money into the same system to do the same thing. In other words, we are simply rewarding the existing performance with more money instead of doing anything to actually improve education. If we want better performance, we will actually have to do something differently – not just spend more money.

Massive College Bribery Scheme Exposed

Wow. 1% and whatnot.

Full House star Lori Loughlin and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman are two of the 50 parents and coaches charged in a plot to get their children into schools including Georgetown, Stanford, UCLA, University of San Diego, USC, University of Texas, Wake Forest, and Yale.

The scheme was uncovered by the FBI and federal prosecutors in Boston, and involved parents paying bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into these elite schools.

In many instances, the children were unaware that their parents had paid these tax-deductible bribes, according to federal documents.

Referendum Meeting Recap

I attended the referendum informational meeting at Jackson Elementary last night. For the uninitiated, the West Bend School District is asking the voters to borrow $47 million with a $74 million payback to build a new Jackson Elementary building and do a bunch of renovations at the high school. I have already stated that I oppose the referendum for a myriad of reasons, but I’m always open to change my mind. I went to the meeting to see if I was missing something. For the record, I’m not, but it was an interesting meeting nonetheless.

I like the referendum process and am glad that we have it. While I disagree with this one and will vote against it, the process itself allows the community to have a robust discussion about spending, tax increases, and priorities. This little act of direct democracy in a republican form of government is healthy. Here are a few thoughts on what transpired last night:

  • The format of the meeting was manipulative. Normally, in a meeting like this, the superintendent or leader would present the facts and then take questions. I this case, the superintendent gave a short 15 minute presentation, but then instead of taking questions, the audience members were instructed to go to the back of the room and speak individually with the architects, finance people, or school district people to get their answered their questions. The stated reason for this format was to make sure that the “experts” could give more detailed answers. The practical effect was to prevent people from hearing what other people were asking, isolate them, and diffuse any appearance of opposition.
  • Joel Ongert, the President of the School Board, was there. He neither introduced himself to the audience nor answered any questions.
  • The superintendent’s presentation was fine. He stated multiple times that he was just there to give the facts and not advocate. He did not overtly advocate, but the bias is in the presentation of the facts. He presented the misleading view of the tax burden to support the referendum and a skewed version of the timeline leading up to the referendum. But he did also point out that many parts of the buildings were much newer than the original 100+ year-old parts.
  • Interestingly, the superintendent and a couple of other school officials repeatedly made the point that state law forbids them from using referendum money for anything not stated in the ballot question. True, as far as it goes, but the referendum question is very vague and leaves a LOT of room for interpretation. Methinks they protest too much.
  • I took the tour with the principal and about 25 other people. My overall impression was that the school is perfectly fine. The building has some quirky things because of the way it was appended over the years, but it was solid, functional, clean, and generally in good shape. It certainly did not appear to need to be demolished. There were a few maintenance items that needed to be done, like replace some ceiling tiles, but the building was in pretty great shape. Most of the complaints were about theoretical issues. For example, one hallway has a long ramp that might be difficult to navigate for a kid in a wheel chair. Might. Has it ever been an actual problem in the history of the school? Not that anyone could cite.
  • When I returned to the gym, I spoke with the principal and a couple of other people. I ended up in a rather lengthy discussion with a guy who lives in Slinger but sells real estate in Jackson. He was adamant that building the new school would attract people to Jackson and boost property values. When I brought up the projections for declining enrollment and the demographic shift driving it, he brushed it as “projections.” He did admit, however, that building a new building would not actually contribute anything to educating kids. Property values, population growth, etc. may all be good things, but the school district’s mission is supposed to be to educate kids.
  • At the end of the meeting, there was a lady standing at the door handing out pro-referendum yard signs and flyers. Yes, you read that right. On school grounds. After the informational meeting. The School District officials permitted a person to hand out pro-referendum materials. This way, the district can claim to not be “advocating,” but they are giving their support group the space to advocate and bringing the audience to them. It’s a sham end-around of the law. Maybe I’ll print out a bunch of opposition flyers and see if I can hand them out at the next meeting.

My overwhelming impression from the meeting was that there are a lot of people lining up to tell me what a great idea the referendum is who don’t live here and won’t be paying the bill. Bray, the architecture firm? Says it’s a great idea, but is based in Milwaukee. Baird, the finance folks? Says it’s the best time to borrow, but won’t be paying for it. The real estate guy? Lives in Slinger, but wants Jackson real estate prices to rise. Even the Superintendent… it did not escape my attention that he still has South Dakota plates on his car. He’s at the end of his career and I am certain that he will not be living in the West Bend School District for the next 19 years to pay off this referendum.

Many of the people pushing the referendum won’t have to pay for it, but they will receive financial benefit for it. Bray will make a fortune building the schools if it passes. Baird will make money off of the financing. Real estate guy will make money off of rising property values (assuming that happens). The superintendent will cash in his retirement benefits as he moves back to South Dakota. Everyone there seemed to have their hands in my pocket and not a single one of them even pretends that spending $74 million will make one kid smarter. It won’t improve test scores. It won’t improve educational outcomes. It won’t improve graduation rates.

What is more and more clear is that the West Bend referendum isn’t about education at all. It’s about the shakedown of taxpayers for the financial benefit of a few.

So I guess I did learn something new at the referendum informational meeting. I learned that it is worse than I thought.

Why Are Kids Fleeing MPS’ Conventional Schools?

Interesting point from Bruce Thompson at Urban Milwaukee.

For the past two decades, there has been an influential faction, including the Milwaukee teachers’ union (MTEA) and some school board members, that blames MPS’s problems on the availability of charter schools and vouchers for private schools. According to the MTEA and its close ally the Working Families Party, the solution to declining MPS enrollment is to prevent parents from choosing to send their children to charter schools or private schools.

Thus, instead of asking how MPS can better serve its customers, the children and their parents living in Milwaukee, the emphasis is on recreating a monopoly by getting rid of the competition. Ironically, charter schools chartered by MPS are among the most successful, if the state’s school report cards are used as a measure. This is particularly true if one looks at schools with a high percentage of students in poverty.

Partly this reflects the MPS competitive advantage, its ability to offer its empty space to a charter school. However, growing hostility towards charters on the board has made charter school administrators begin to wonder if they should consider switching to another charter authorizer.

Consider what happened to Wendell Harris, the only incumbent running for reelection in April election for school board. Four years ago, Harris ran and won with the support of the MTEA. This year the union is opposing his re-election. His crime? After visiting Carmen and deciding it was a very good school, he voted in favor of its sharing space in Pulaski High School. Essentially, his crime was putting the interest of the students ahead of that of MPS.

The next table lists the candidates for school board in the upcoming election. I think it is safe to say that those in the left-hand column have convinced the MTEA and the Working Families Party that they won’t make Harris’ heresy of approving a charter school application just because it does a good job of educating students.

2019 MTEA Endorsements

2019 MTEA Endorsements

To put this in perspective, conventional MPS schools currently serve around 56 percent of the Milwaukee children whose education is publicly supported, while 39 percent are in independent charter schools or private schools through the choice program. In order to get the Working Families/MTEA endorsement, the candidates in the left-hand column are committed to trying to disrupt the education of 39 percent of Milwaukee’s students.

School Tells Kids to Pretend They Own Slaves

When will they learn?

NASHVILLE – A Tennessee school district is apologizing for a homework assignment that asked students to pretend their families own slaves.

The hand-written assignment, which touched on issues of slavery, immigration and child labor, was given out Wednesday in an eighth grade social studies class at Sunset Middle School, about 20 miles from Nashville.

One box on the homework sheet reads, “Your family owns slaves. Create a list of expectations for your family’s slaves.”

[…]

The homework, which Fountain shared on Twitter, also asked students to write a poem or song lyrics that “compare and contrast the lives of plantation owners and their slave population” and “create a political cartoon depicting immigrant labor in the United States.”

Do you know what avoids these kinds of controversies? Just teach facts and stop trying to create social justice warriors. For example, instead of asking kids to write out the job duties of their fictional slaves, just teach the kids what actual slaves were forced to do. Or even go one step further and teach them what modern slaves are currently forced to do.

Break free from debt in the West Bend School District

Here is my full column that appeared first in the Washington County Daily News.

Nothing quite strangles a person, family, community, or nation like debt. Whether it is credit card debt, student loan debt, medical debts, the national debt (now a crushing $22 trillion), or school referendum debt, it not only drains resources in the present, but it robs the future of its choices. Debt is the master who brokers no dissension or leniency. Debt must be served before all others. Why then, does the West Bend School District want to saddle the taxpayers with another generational debt when they are so close to being debt-free?

One of the ways that credit card companies, car dealers, student loan companies, and other people who make money off of your debt sell their products is to focus on the payments instead of the actual debt. By taking a $50,000 car and stretching out the loan to 10 years, suddenly a person earning $30,000 per year can “afford” a really nice car. That works great until it is year eight, the car needs expensive repairs, and there are still two more years of payments due.

This is exactly the misleading game that the West Bend School District is using to sell a massive debt to the citizens. In April, the citizens will be asked to approve borrowing $47 million for a new Jackson Elementary school and revamping parts of the high school. It will cost approximately $74 million to repay the $47 million loan.

One of the selling points for the referendum is that it will “only” cost an additional 13 cents in the annual property tax mill rate to buy shiny new buildings. The mill rate is simply a term that gives the tax rate per $1,000 of property value. So if you own a home valued at $200,000, the 13 cent mill rate increase would cost you $26 per year. That seems cheap, right? “Less than a cup of coffee a month,” the advocates will tout. “Can’t you spare a cup a coffee a month for the children?” And so it goes. We have seen the arguments before. But let us look at the math.

If you add up all of the property in the West Bend School District, it has an aggregate value of $4,720,140,099. A 13 cent additional mill rate would generate $613,618.20 in additional tax revenue per year. How long does it take to pay off a $74 million debt at $613,618.20 per year? Even allowing for moderate annual increases in property values, it would take over 100 years to pay off the debt. How is the West Bend School District going to pay for the fancy new schools with only an additional 13 cents in the mill rate? What sort of financial sorcery is this?

The answer, of course, is that it will not cost just an additional 13 cents in the mill rate. It will cost much, much more. In the current tax levy, the taxpayers of the West Bend School District are paying a $1.01 mill rate to pay off the old referendums passed in 2009 ($27.4 million) and 2012 ($22.865 million). For that same $200,000 house, the homeowner is paying $202 per year just to pay for debt issued in the past decade.

The old debt is being steadily paid off and will be completely paid off by 2028 — nine years from now. Some of that debt begins to be paid off this year. In short, if the citizens vote against the referendum, they will see this portion of their property taxes decrease starting next year and will be eliminated in less than a decade. If the referendum passes, the district will simply redirect that money to the new debt.

The notion that we can pay $74 million in debt with a 13 cent mill rate is ludicrous and to claim so is intentionally deceptive. The truth is that it is not only a tax increase, but forgoing a sizable tax decrease. However one manipulates the mill rate, $74 million is still roughly $1,850 for every adult in the West Bend School District. That is a lot more than a cup of coffee.

Getting out of the debt cycle is a choice. It starts at home by paying off old debt while resisting taking on new debt. It starts in the West Bend School District by paying off the old referendums before passing new ones. Instead of stacking debt on top of debt, the citizens of the West Bend School District should break free of the debt trap and vote “no” on the referendum on April 2.

 

Break free from debt in the West Bend School District

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I take a look at the math behind the rhetoric of the upcoming referendum in the West Bend School District. Specifically, I take issue with this lie being promoted on posters around town:

Here’s a part:

One of the selling points for the referendum is that it will “only” cost an additional 13 cents in the annual property tax mill rate to buy shiny new buildings. The mill rate is simply a term that gives the tax rate per $1,000 of property value. So if you own a home valued at $200,000, the 13 cent mill rate increase would cost you $26 per year. That seems cheap, right? “Less than a cup of coffee a month,” the advocates will tout. “Can’t you spare a cup a coffee a month for the children?” And so it goes. We have seen the arguments before. But let us look at the math.

If you add up all of the property in the West Bend School District, it has an aggregate value of $4,720,140,099. A 13 cent additional mill rate would generate $613,618.20 in additional tax revenue per year. How long does it take to pay off a $74 million debt at $613,618.20 per year? Even allowing for moderate annual increases in property values, it would take over 100 years to pay off the debt. How is the West Bend School District going to pay for the fancy new schools with only an additional 13 cents in the mill rate? What sort of financial sorcery is this?

The answer, of course, is that it will not cost just an additional 13 cents in the mill rate. It will cost much, much more. In the current tax levy, the taxpayers of the West Bend School District are paying a $1.01 mill rate to pay off the old referendums passed in 2009 ($27.4 million) and 2012 ($22.865 million). For that same $200,000 house, the homeowner is paying $202 per year just to pay for debt issued in the past decade.

The old debt is being steadily paid off and will be completely paid off by 2028 — nine years from now. Some of that debt begins to be paid off this year. In short, if the citizens vote against the referendum, they will see this portion of their property taxes decrease starting next year and will be eliminated in less than a decade. If the referendum passes, the district will simply redirect that money to the new debt.

The notion that we can pay $74 million in debt with a 13 cent mill rate is ludicrous and to claim so is intentionally deceptive. The truth is that it is not only a tax increase, but forgoing a sizable tax decrease. However one manipulates the mill rate, $74 million is still roughly $1,850 for every adult in the West Bend School District. That is a lot more than a cup of coffee.

It really is distressing that the advocates for the referendum – who do so under the mantra of providing a better education for our kids – either don’t understand, or don’t care, about accurately explaining how debt works. This is why we end up with so many adults caught in a debt trap. They aren’t being taught any better.

On WISN @ 1705

I’ll be on the Mark Belling show this afternoon on AM1130 at 1705 with guest host Dave Michaels to discuss my story about West Bend teachers pushing their liberal ideology on kids.

Tune in!

Pushing Liberalism in West Bend High Schools

At West Bend High School, there is a required, one semester class called “U.S. Government and Law.” The course overview says:

In this course, students will experience how the wheels of government and justice work at the local, state, and federal level. Student activities and hands-on experiences will be emphasized to demonstrate how “We the People” are affected by and function within our government and law. Students electing to take Advanced Placement U.S. History have the option of taking this course in grades 10,11, or 12.

Good, right? I would argue that part of the reason for public education is to equip people to be active participants in our civic society, so this kind of education is good. One semester seems entirely inadequate, but at least it will provide kids with a rudimentary understanding of the levels of government, how legislation works, how the legal system works, etc., right?

Wrong. With one precious semester to teach kids about their government, the teachers at West Bend High Schools are using it as an opportunity to advocate liberalism to the impressionable teenagers under their care.

Here is a description from Esquire, of all places, of what happens in class:

The class recently took a political-opinion poll that places students on a forty-four-point spectrum from Conservative Reactionary (22C) to Liberal Radical (22L). About two thirds of the class were moderate to liberal, falling between 1L and 22L. Ryan says a few kids landed at the extremes: one “conservative radical,” a boy, and three “liberal extremists,” all girls.

[…]

Mr. Inkmann then has the students sing two songs written by another West Bend teacher. “The Liberal Song” is set to the tune of “Ode to Joy.” Mr. Inkmann offers to sing first before everyone joins in. “If I were a liberal, liberal, life would be so very great,” the lyrics read, “knowing that in liberal land this other man could marry me.” The students flip through their political-spectrum packets to follow along. One kid snaps his fingers, rocking out. “The Conservative Song,” set to the tune of “Beer Barrel Polka,” includes lines like “I hate social programs, they really make me want to puke / I would rather use the money for a two-ton nuke” and “Welfare is not good, before we had it, people tried / And I hope the biggest criminals are electrified!”

Yes, you’re reading that right. Here are the songs written by the other teacher:

You can see the difference in the language. The liberal song is positive and uses words and phrases like “loved,” “happy,” “pro-choice,” “protest in a big parade,” “end pollution,” etc. The conservative song is negative and uses words like, “hate,” “women should stay home, pro-create, cook,” “hate gay marriage,” want to puke,” etc. This is a liberal’s caricature of conservatism. It’s a straw man that the teachers then spend the rest of class tearing down. It is not even close to an accurate description of modern conservative philosophy.

This is not isolated. I’m told that in Mr. Kieser’s class, the teacher who wrote the lyrics, it is much the same. The first few weeks of the semester have been spent having kids identify their stances on political issues and then the teacher will spend oodles of time “explaining” to the kids how the liberal positions are the better positions – without outright saying it, of course. The message to the kids is clear, however, if you hold conservative views, you are a violent heartless bigot.

This is not a rogue teacher. This is part of the planned course of study.

There are two outrages here. First, the obvious outrage that the lefty teachers are abusing their positions of authority to push their lefty views on kids. Second, they are wasting educational time on this junk instead of using it to teach the kids about their government and legal system.

It would be easy to fill four years of civics classes with just the mechanics of government and law – without even getting into political philosophies. And yet West Bend is choosing to fill class time with this and leave the kids ignorant about everything except the basics of our government and legal systems. Curriculum is about choices and the West Bend schools are choosing to advance liberalism with the scarce classroom time allotted to them.

DPI Ordered to Release Open Records

This is the cultural norm in Wisconsin’s government education establishment. Delay, deflect, deny.

According to the lawsuit, WILL first requested three sets of ESSA-related records in August 2018, then sent a follow-up email the following month. A DPI employee said the request was in progress on Sept. 21, 2018.

WILL deputy counsel Thomas Kamenick followed up again on Nov. 12, and the request was partially fulfilled the following day. Portions of the request were denied for being “insufficiently specific” and “unreasonably burdensome,” and WILL send a narrowed request the following month, which DPI acknowledged on Dec. 13.

The most recent update from DPI, according to the lawsuit, was on Jan. 4, to notify WILL that the request was being worked on as a “priority,” but had been delayed due to the holidays and the election.

Is West Bend Planning to Build a School For Germantown Kids?

Ever since the West Bend School Board started down the road of building a new Jackson Elementary School, something has struck me as odd about the location. Follow me here…

The plans for a New Jackson Elementary School in the West Bend School District call to build a new and much larger school building. The School Board has already purchased property to the south of the current school. Here’s the thing… Jackson Elementary already sits in the extreme southern part of the district. The new site moves it further south. Why? And why build a bigger building when enrollment is declining?

Here’s the thing about Jackson… it sits astride three school districts. Here’s a map:

As you can see, the site of the proposed new school is less than a mile from the Germantown School District and just about a mile from the Slinger District. The question becomes, where will the population growth be? If the population growth is going to be to the north of the village, then it would make more sense to site the new school further north. Due to the Jackson Marsh and the underground pipeline to the east of town, nobody really expects growth that way. The most likely areas for growth are to the West, in the Slinger District, or to the South, in the Germantown District.

Fortunately, we don’t even have to speculate too much. The Village of Jackson has approved a handful of new subdivisions. You can see the map here. One of those subdivisions is a 20 acre plat on the south side of town in the Germantown School District. Incidentally, Joel Ongert, the West Bend School Board President, and Don Kirkegaard, the West Bend School Superintendent, attended the Village Board meeting where that subdivision was approved.

Here is the same map where I’ve shaded in the approved new subdivisions:

This is just what the Village of Jackson has approved. I don’t know what Mayfield, Slinger, Germantown, and Richfield have planned for their pieces of this map. So the question remains… why does the West Bend School Board want to build a massive new school on the extreme southern boundary of the district? Is it to serve the kids currently living in the district or the ones who will move into the district? Or is the big new school designed to lure kids from the Germantown and Slinger Districts through Open Enrollment?

We know that the West Bend School District has been a loser in the Open Enrollment battles for years. Is this school designed to stop that bleeding? If so, why should the taxpayers of the West Bend School District shoulder the burden of building a fancy new school to serve kids who live in another district? IF the taxpayers are going to build a new school to serve their own kids, why not build it on the north side of town – further inside the district and closer to the potential growth around PV?

There has been a lot that doesn’t add up about the why, where, and how for the School Board’s push for a huge new school in Jackson. Perhaps the cartography answers some of those questions – even if they don’t want to say it out loud.

West Bend School Board Moves to Close Charter School

It’s actually become pretty easy to predict what this school board will do… if the teachers union wants it, the board will give it to them.

Tonight, the West Bend School Board approved that recommendation in a 5-1 vote with board member Ken Schmidt being the only no vote. Kurt Rebholz was not in attendance at tonight’s meeting.

Chelsea Doman Davis, a WBSD parent, spoke in support of Pathways Charter School at tonight’s meeting, “I am speaking to you again about Pathways. This is the third time you’ve heard from me on this subject, but as a child advocate, I am used to speaking up when others are uncomfortable to do so. I realize at this point I am unlikely to sway opinions but after last week’s work session, I felt a few more things needed to be more said. I’m a little more off the cuff than usual so forgive me if I ramble or stumble.

“First of all, as a parent I was a little disappointed that the information shared in last week’s work session wasn’t requested a year ago when the extension was granted. This work session was even a last-minute decision at the end of the meeting two weeks ago. You had a year to decide and were waiting until the last minute to try to understand what Pathways is about. With the weather last week, I’m not sure if any of you were able to go to Pathways or if you’ve taken the opportunity to do so before. I think only a few of you have. The best way to understand Pathways is to go to the Showcase Nights and talk to the students and see what they’re working on.

[…]

Diana Swillinger, Pathways Charter School Governance Council, commented,”The board decision not to renew its partnership with Pathways is extremely disappointing. While many words from the administration offered promises for a similar education and environment at East and West High Schools, the examples given of how Pathways students would be transitioned and integrated showed a lack of understanding of the experience and  autonomy students currently have. We can hope, for the students’ sakes that administrators will gain a significantly greater understanding in the coming weeks and months in order to not fail them.
“Pathways is a unique and intense educational opportunity that will not be duplicated within the current system. Students, parents and staff are grieving a great loss.”

UW Uses Federal Money to Pay off Loan

Argh.

The University of Wisconsin System will use federal money to pay off bank loans taken out by the UW-Oshkosh Foundation, according to agreements released Friday.

The UW System paid $6.3 million to banks using federal money designated for administrative costs — meaning no state taxpayer money or tuition dollars, according to UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi. This money comes from reimbursements for administrative costs already incurred by the UW System related to federal grant activity at UW campuses.

At the close of fiscal year 2018, the UW System had about $9.5 million in federal money from this fund that had accrued over the last decade, according to LaRoi.

UW-Oshkosh will pay back the UW System $3.825 million in annual installments of $191,250 from January 2020 through July 2038, according to the agreement. The annual payments will be made with money from the Witzel biodigester, which turns organic waste into energy. The UW System Board of Regents assumed ownership of the biodigester along with the UW-Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center.The payments related to the bankrupty case stem from a building projects controversy surrounding the university’s foundation, a nonprofit organization primarily funded through private donations and investments to help the university.

Remember that this is all because the former chancellor illegally backed loans by a private institution with taxpayer money. That private institution, the UW) Foundation, subsequently bought his house for way above market price. And in the end, who pays? The taxpayers. Meanwhile, take note that the UW System continues to horde slush funds.

This is also yet another example of how much of our money the federal government pisses away. Why in the world are they handing out millions to a university system for “administrative costs?”

Another case of misplaced priorities

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

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from better-performing neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

On the April ballot, the voters of the West Bend School District will be asked to borrow $47 million (with an estimated payback of $74 million) to build a new Jackson Elementary School building and make a hodgepodge of renovations to the high school building. There is no legal requirement that the district spend the borrowed money on the stated purpose once the borrowing is approved. They could spend the money on anything they want, which is why many school districts have ladled fat onto their referendums so that they could pay for myriad pet projects. But for the sake of argument, let us take the West Bend referendum at face value and assume that they will only use it for its stated purpose.

Jackson Elementary is advertised as the oldest school building in the district, but that is a stretch of the truth. One small part of the building is from the original construction. Most of the building was added on over the decades. The school educated as many as 528 kids in the 2008-09 school year, but a combination of reconfiguring the middle schools and the decline in aggregate enrollment eroded the student enrollment to 370 kids in the 2017-19 school year. Enrollment projections show that enrollment will continue to decline 10 percent to 20 percent over the next decade. In short, much of the space in Jackson Elementary is underutilized and unneeded.

The Jackson Elementary building is 59,176 square feet, or about 160 square feet per child. The draft design for a new building is a whopping 85,000 square feet, or about 230 square feet child at the current enrollment. The industry standard for elementary kids, according to the information provided by the school district, is 134 square feet per child. The school is already much bigger than needed and the plan is to build an even bigger one.

It is worth noting that despite the lamentations about Jackson Elementary being a dump of a school, it boasts the second-highest performance of any elementary school in the district. Clearly, what happens inside the building is more important than the building itself. Building a massive new fancy building is more about soothing the vanity of School Board members and staff than it is about educating kids.

In the high school building, there is a list of wants that the school board wants to borrow money to pay for and a few routine maintenance items that have been neglected for years. They are all things that were predictable expenses that should have been budgeted and completed as a matter of routine, but they were willfully ignored. Now the School Board wants to put the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars into debt to make up for years of poor fiscal management.

The School Board has failed to exercise the power given to it by Act 10 to properly manage its budget to improve education. They abandoned the fledgling merit pay system for teachers implemented by the previous superintendent in favor of a blanket $1 million pay increase for teachers. Merit pay may or may not save money, but it will improve education by recruiting and retaining better teachers. Much like the district’s curriculum, the district’s compensation plan for teachers is geared toward punishing excellence, excusing failure, and rewarding mediocrity. The district gets exactly what it is paying for.

Six years ago, an innovative School Board started a charter school in the district to offer diversity in educational experiences for kids. Over the past couple of years, the district has orphaned that effort. The current School Board is well down the path of killing it or, if they can’t, moving it into an existing building. Fortunately, due to declining enrollment, several of the district’s buildings have ample space.

The School Board still pays an exorbitant amount for staff benefits, has too many administrators compared to other districts, and wastes money on duplicative high school staffs. Like the compulsive gambler, the School Board is perpetually claiming poverty and trying to borrow money when the root of the district’s alleged financial distress is the unavoidable consequence of their own decisions.

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.

Another case of misplaced priorities

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I start digging into all of the reasons why voters should vote against the referendum that the misguided West Bend School Board put on the April ballot. Here’s a piece:

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from betterperforming neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

[…]

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.