Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

West Bend School Referendum Fails

Excellent! Nice work, neighbors.

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


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

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

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

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

 

Hagedorn Wins Supreme Court Race

Huzzah, huzzah. It is great to see the voters of Wisconsin push back on anti-religious bigotry and elect a great, constructionist jurist to the highest court.

Conservative Brian Hagedorn, who was Walker’s chief legal counsel for five years, led liberal-backed Lisa Neubauer by 5,911 votes out of 1.2 million cast, based on unofficial results. That is a difference of about 0.49 percentage point, close enough for Neubauer to request a recount but she would have to pay for it.

Hagedorn declared victory early Wednesday morning.

“The people of Wisconsin have spoken, and our margin of victory is insurmountable,” he said in a statement.

Minutes after he declared victory, the Neubauer campaign sent out a fundraising plea saying “with the vote total neck and neck, it looks like we’re heading into a potential recount.” Her campaign adviser Scott Spector said Wednesday morning that Hagedorn’s declaration of victory did not change their position that a recount was likely.

Go Vote!

This is your friendly reminder to get out and vote today if you haven’t done so already. On my ballot, here are the deets:

SUPREME COURT:

It is incredibly important to elect Brian Hagedorn to the bench. If you would like some reading as to why, go here.

WEST BEND SCHOOL REFERENDUM

Vote NO. If you like, you can go back and read all of the gory details, but if I were to sum it up, we should vote NO because it is way too much money to spend in a district with declining enrollment for something that will not improve educational outcomes one iota. We should not reward the poor fiscal management of the school board by giving them more money to waste.

WEST BEND SCHOOL BOARD

There are three candidates for two seats. It doesn’t matter a hill of beans who you vote for. You will get the same results.

All other races are uncontested.

Go vote!

Behold, the child-king Evers

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s a taste:

We are almost three months into Governor Tony Evers’ term. He has had time to find the lunch room, rearrange his office, figure out his network access, and get his bearings. It is time to take a look at how those three months have gone. Frankly, it hasn’t gone very well. Seemingly every action has been marked by incompetence, rank partisanship, childishness, or all three — and he doesn’t seem to be improving.

Immediately upon assuming office, Evers made it clear that Wisconsin was no longer “open for business” by stripping that slogan, so often associated with Scott Walker, off of all of Wisconsin’s welcome signs. While well within his power, it was a ham-handed action that immediately confirmed what all thinking people already knew: Tony Evers’ administration will be bad for business.

Recognizing that Wisconsin is now in a period of divided government that would require compromise, Republicans in the Legislature immediately set about advancing several bills that were on the rhetorical common ground. First, the legislative Republicans advanced a bill to require health insurers to accept people with pre-existing conditions should Obamacare fall. This was a position advocated by Republicans and Evers during the campaign, but Evers immediately dismissed the bill while admitting that he had not even read it.

Then the Republicans in the Legislature passed a tax cut for the middle class. Evers had advocated for such a tax cut in the waning days of the campaign and the Republicans thought he was serious. Always in favor of cutting taxes, the Republicans passed a middle-class tax cut and even gave Evers credit for it. Evers quickly vetoed the tax cut using a fig leaf of an excuse.

Just last month, the Republicans tried again to work on common ground. Both parties strongly agree that the use of the term “mental retardation” is offensive in the modern nomenclature and should be replaced with a more suitable term in the state’s statutory and regulatory language. The Republicans passed a bill to this effect, but Evers moved to take credit on the issue by issuing an executive order before the bill could hit his desk.

In all three instances, Evers was presented with an opportunity to build bridges over common ground withthe Republicans in the Legislature, but chose to burn them instead. Not only were his actions partisan and childish, they were politically tone-deaf and will have the practical effect of hampering his ability to advance his initiatives through a Republican-led Legislature that he insists on affronting at every opportunity.

 

 

Evers Shoots $2 Billion Hole in Budget

I am thankful that the good voters of Wisconsin had the wisdom to elect a Republican legislature to check this idiocy.

MADISON – Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ spending plan would leave the state with a nearly $2 billion gap at the start of the next budget cycle in two years, according to a report Monday by the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office.

The gap, known as the structural deficit, would be the largest since former Gov. Jim Doyle approved his last budget a decade ago amid the fallout from the Great Recession.

Taxpayers Consider Massive New Debt Tomorrow

Wow. This is a tremendous amount of new debt to take on – especially when the likelihood of a recession in the next couple of years is substantial.

Tuesday’s spring election will have voters considering nearly $1.2 billion in property tax increases, thanks to school district referenda. Forty-eight districts across the state are asking voters to approve projects ranging from brand new schools, to operating costs, and security upgrades.

A vast majority of the money that school districts are asking for would issue debt to property owners in the districts. This debt would be paid for by increasing local property taxes. Across the state, 26 districts are asking for more than $1.1 billion total in new debt.

According to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), 85eighty five percent of the referenda up for vote will issue debt directly to the taxpayers. Of the remaining 15 percent remaining, 14 percent are non-recurring or “one-time” increases on spending caps for the districts. Recurring increases on spending caps make up the remaining 1 percent of the amount up for vote.

Of the districts asking to issue new debt, the largest spender is Sun Prairie School District, which is asking for $164 million to build a new high school. Neenah School District is asking for voters to consider $129 million in debt to construct a new middle school, renovate several other buildings, and increase school security district wide.

Seven districts are requesting a recurring increase, which has no end date, and will continue to roll over year after year. Most of the recurring costs provisions would increase staff salaries or expand after-school programs. Sun Prairie has a ballot measure requesting $5 million a year to staff the new high school. DeForest Area is requesting a recurring $2.5 million for operational costs and district programming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evers “Re-Appoints” Appointees

Um, this is not compromise. Evers can’t “re-appoint” people whose appointments were never legally rescinded in the first place.

Gov. Tony Evers has moved to re-appoint many of the people he sought to pull off state boards and commissions last week even as the attorney for GOP lawmakers suggested the guv was violating an “unambiguous court order” in doing so.

In all, Evers announced 67 appointments Thursday, all of whom were on the list of 82 he rescinded last week after a Dane County judge nixed their appointments.

Those who didn’t make the cut included two members of the UW Board of Regents and Ellen Nowak, who tried unsuccessfully to return to the Public Service Commission Thursday morning, but was blocked from doing so.

Ahead of Evers’ move, GOP attorney Misha Tseytlin wrote a letter to the guv’s attorney warning against such action. The 3rd District Court of Appeals Wednesday issued a stay of Dane County Judge Niess’ ruling while the merits of the case are decided, and Tseytlin argued that order was “clear beyond any doubt” that the original 82 appointments be put back in place pending completion of the appeal.

Tseytlin noted Evers may believe his actions last Friday rescinded the appointments.

“But all that matters at the present time is that the Court of Appeals has clearly required that these appointments to be put back into place, meaning that the Governor would be in direct violation of the Court of Appeals’ order if he were to deny these 82 individuals their ‘potentially valid … appointments,’” he wrote, quoting from the 3rd District Court of Appeals’ stay.

Remember that one of the reason that we have appointments to these boards whose terms span election cycles is to make them somewhat resistant to political upheavals. Evers’ actions ignore that attempt at good governance.

Vote “No” on West Bend School Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evers Uses Bad Ruling to Usurp Walker Appointees

Evers is Sleazy. Just. Sleazy.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — One of former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees tried to return to her job Thursday after a state appellate court stayed a court ruling that her appointment and dozens of others were invalid — only to be turned away at the door.

Ellen Nowak tried to return to her job as chairwoman of the Public Service Commission along with her assistant, Bob Seitz. A security guard stopped both of them and a human resources manager appeared and took them into a private room. When they emerged, Nowak said she had been told that Gov. Tony Evers’ administration doesn’t believe the stay reinstates the Walker appointees.

As I said in my column, it’s pretty clear how Evers and his liberal cohorts in the courts plan to rule.

Appeals Court Stays Niess Ruling

As expected.

Parts of laws the GOP-controlled Legislature adopted curtailing executive branch powers are back in place after a state appeals court Wednesday temporarily suspended a ruling that struck them down.

The new ruling intensified the disarray in state government created by the passage of — and subsequent legal fight over — the laws, passed in a December lame-duck session just before Evers took office.

The ruling, issued Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the state District III Court of Appeals, temporarily stayed a ruling issued last week by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and GOP lawmakers sparred Wednesday about who is at fault for the chaos. They also clashed over the status of 82 state government appointments made by former Gov. Scott Walker, which Evers rescinded after last week’s ruling.

Evers’ office contended the appointments, which include a University of Wisconsin System Regent and a Public Service Commissioner, remain vacant. But an attorney for Republican lawmakers said the Walker appointees are back in their jobs. The court did not weigh in on that question.

The thumb on the scales

Here is my full column from the Washington County Daily News

If there was any doubt as to the importance of the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election, the outrageous ruling by rogue Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess should vanquish it. The leftists have shown that they are willing to use the power of the judicial branch to advance their radical agenda without scruples or remorse. Against such an onslaught, a Supreme Court comprised of strict constitutionalists serves as the last bastion against the judicial usurpation of our representative government.

In the waning days of the last legislative session, the Legislature passed a series of laws to shore up their gains of the previous eight years before the Democrats assumed control of the executive branch. In a clear violation of the separation of powers principle and a gross overreach of judicial authority, a single, lowly Dane County judge ruled that the entire extraordinary season was unconstitutional, and thus, all of the laws duly passed during the session are unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Niess ignored the clear wording of the Constitution, the statutes, and decades of legislative practice by both major political parties. Judge Niess’ ruling was not based on law. It was based on advancing a liberal political outcome.

If you wondered what that outcome was, Democrats Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul quickly confirmed it as they moved swiftly after the ruling to withdraw the state from the federal Obamacare lawsuit and begin the process of replacing the 82 people appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed in that session.

The ruling is such an egregious overreach that if it holds, it would invalidate hundreds of laws passed over the past several decades. The Legislature has been meeting in extraordinary seasons for years, as is their prerogative, to pass legislation. The most recent extraordinary session was to listen to Governor Evers’ budget address. But before that, taxpayer funding for Fiserv Forum, redistricting, campaign finance laws, government funding laws, and much more have been passed in extraordinary sessions.

In all, the Legislature has held over two dozen extraordinary sessions over the previous two generations for the purpose of passing laws supported by both Democrats and Republicans. If extraordinary sessions are themselves unconstitutional, as Judge Niess’ preposterous partisan ruling states, then all of those laws would be unconstitutional.

Thankfully, Dane County Judge Niess’ ruling will likely be stayed by an appeals court this week before being completely overturned. If Dane County voters have any fidelity to the rule of law, Niess will be run off the bench for his blatant abuse of power. He is a disgrace.

The judicial system is designed to correct for rogue and incompetent judges by allowing bad decisions to be appealed through multiple higher courts. But if the same rabid partisanship that infects Judge Niess is permitted to spread to the Supreme Court, the Legislature and governor will be relegated to merely being entertaining political theater because the austere tyrants in black robes will make all of the real decisions.

Judge Niess, Governor Evers, and Attorney General Kaul tipped their hands to how they will neuter the power of the Republican-led Legislature if the radical leftists take control of the state Supreme Court. They will follow the path of the leftist horde after Governor Walker was elected. They will get a fellow traveler on the Dane County bench to rule laws they do not like as unconstitutional, and then act by judicial and executive fiat. Except this time, instead of the Supreme Court overturning bad rulings and showing deference to the Constitution and the tenets of representative government, a leftist-dominated court will set the leftist agenda into stone.

On April 2, or anytime this week via early voting, it is critically important that Wisconsin elect Judge Brian Hagedorn to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He has demonstrated the appropriate humility, firm adherence to the Constitution, and deference to representative government necessary to protect the individual rights of Wisconsinites. If the Supreme Court is to remain a bulwark for individual liberty and representative government, we need to elect justices like Brian Hagedorn who believe in those principles.

Liberal Neubauer Ruled on 101 Cases Involving Husband’s Clients

Yikes.

Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer, the liberal candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, says she supports an independent and impartial judiciary, but she sat in judgement on cases concerning clients of her husband’s cleaning business.

WISN-AM radio personality Dan O’Donnell reported Monday that an analysis of Neubauer’s statements of economic interest shows the judge hearing 101 cases involving her husband’s former business clients. O’Donnell reported:

In 73 cases, Judge Neubauer sat on a case involving a public sector client (such as a municipality like the City of Kenosha or an executive department of state government such as the Department of Veterans Affairs). In 28 cases, she sat on cases involving private sector clients including Associated Bank, Froedtert Hospital, Abbot Labs, Walgreen Co., and Best Buy.

In 79 of those 101 total cases, Neubauer joined the majority in ruling in favor of a Kranz client. In 31 of those rulings, Neubauer herself wrote the majority opinion.

O’Donnell wrote that it was unclear whether Neubauer’s husband Jeffrey Neubauer had an “economic interest” in the cases because the judge stopped disclosing her husband’s clients from 2010 until the business was sold in 2017. The clients in question were on the judge’s 2009 financial disclosure statement.

The thumb on the scales

My column for the Washington County Daily News is in print and on line. Here’re the highlights, but be sure to pick up a copy to read the whole thing!

If there was any doubt as to the importance of the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election, the outrageous ruling by rogue Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess should vanquish it. The leftists have shown that they are willing to use the power of the judicial branch to advance their radical agenda without scruples or remorse. Against such an onslaught, a Supreme Court comprised of strict constitutionalists serves as the last bastion against the judicial usurpation of our representative government.

[…]

Judge Niess’ ruling was not based on law. It was based on advancing a liberal political outcome.

If you wondered what that outcome was, DemocratsGov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul quickly confirmed it as they moved swiftly after the ruling to withdraw the state from the federal Obamacare lawsuit and begin the process of replacing the 82 people appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed in that session.

[…]

Thankfully, Dane County Judge Niess’ ruling will likely be stayed by an appeals court this week before being completely overturned. If Dane County voters have any fidelity to the rule of law, Niess will be run off the bench for his blatant abuse of power. He is a disgrace.

The judicial system is designed to correct for rogue and incompetent judges by allowing bad decisions to be appealed through multiple higher courts. But if the same rabid partisanship that infects Judge Niess is permitted to spread to the Supreme Court, the Legislature and governor will be relegated to merely being entertaining political theater because the austere tyrants in black robes will make all of the real decisions.

Judge Niess, Governor Evers, and Attorney General Kaul tipped their hands to how they will neuter the power of the Republican-led Legislature if the radical leftists take control of the state Supreme Court. They will follow the path of the leftist horde after Governor Walker was elected. They will get a fellow traveler on the Dane County bench to rule laws they do not like as unconstitutional, and then act by judicial and executive fiat. Except this time, instead of the Supreme Court overturning bad rulings and showing deference to the Constitution and the tenets of representative government, a leftist-dominated court will set the leftist agenda into stone.

On April 2, or anytime this week via early voting, it is critically important that Wisconsin elect Judge Brian Hagedorn to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He has demonstrated the appropriate humility, firm adherence to the Constitution, and deference to representative government necessary to protect the individual rights of Wisconsinites. If the Supreme Court is to remain a bulwark for individual liberty and representative government, we need to elect justices like Brian Hagedorn who believe in those principles.

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.”

Evers Rescinds Walker Appointments

Evers is moving quickly to take advantage of a rogue judge’s ruling.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Friday rescinded 82 of former Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees who were approved in the controversial December 2018 lame-duck session, after a judge ruled on Thursday that the actions taken during the session were unconstitutional.

“These seats are now considered vacant, but we are committed to working as quickly as possible to fill them and minimize the disruption to the important work done by these boards, committees and councils,” said Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff in an email.

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.

Foxconn Plant To Be Operational By 2020

Great!

Electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group said Monday it will begin construction this summer on a display-screen manufacturing hub near Racine, with plans for production to start by the end of 2020.

A company statement said the construction marks the next phase of Foxconn’s overall blueprint for its campus in Mount Pleasant.

It underscores the company’s manufacturing plans at the site, weeks after reports and statements by Foxconn officials suggested the company was scaling back or changing its plans to build display screens in Wisconsin.

If the plant is operational by fall 2020, it also could give political fodder to one of its top cheerleaders, President Donald Trump, who has touted Foxconn’s plans as heralding a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing.
This will be hard for Wisconsin’s Democrats. Will they celebrate this great economic boon to Wisconsin or will they continue to carp and moan because Trump celebrates it? In other words, will Democrats prioritize partisan politics over celebrating Wisconsin’s success? I think we know the answer to that.

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.