It’s election day in Wisconsin. Most importantly, get out and vote for Judge Michael Screnock. Also, vote YES to get rid of the State Treasurer. Then look down the ballot and make choices in your local races.
In my neck of the woods, I encourage you to vote for Monte Schmiegie and Mary Weigand for the West Bend School Board, and vote NO on all four of the referenda for roads in the City of West Bend.
Like many folks, I took advantage of in-person early voting and exercised my franchise last week. If you didn’t, there’s a snow storm schmucking Wisconsin today. It looks like it’s going to roll into the southern third of Wisconsin this afternoon, so get out there and vote this morning. We’re Wisconsinites… we don’t let a little snow keep us away from choosing our government.
My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:
There is an election April 3, but in-person absentee voting is open at your local City Hall until the end of the day Friday. Most importantly, get out and vote for Michael Screnock for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. After that, look further down the ballot and you will find many other important races. In the West Bend School District, four candidates are contending for two seats.
The West Bend School District is in the midst of some serious challenges. The biggest challenge is that the district has been without a superintendent for the better part of a year and is just beginning the search process for a new one. Many of the other administrators have also left the district leaving a severe vacuum of leadership. Meanwhile, the School Board is charging headlong toward an unwise referendum to replace Jackson Elementary.
West Bend voters are privileged in the fact that all four candidates running have a lot in common. Monte Schmiege, Mary Weigand, Chris Zwygart and Kurt Rebholz are all devoted local citizens with deep roots in the community. All four candidates have solid, if different, backgrounds that would bring a lot to the school board. They all tout the virtues of fiscal responsibility, safe schools, transparency and all of the other things important to West Bend’s voters. They are all intent of finding a superintendent who will fill the leadership void with a clear vision, strong administrative skills and an ability to connect and communicate with the entire community.
For all practical purposes, all four candidates appear to agree on 90 percent, if not more, of the issues that will come before the board. The differences between the candidates are small, but they are real. Those differences lead me to cast my votes for Monte Schmiege and Mary Weigand.
One of the biggest differences that has emerged between the candidates revolves around the School Board’s role and responsibility when it comes to determining curriculum. Rebholz and Zwygart have made strong statements to the effect that the School Board should provide some oversight, but that the determination of curriculum should be left to the so-called experts. They eschew the responsibility for curriculum saying that part-time non-educators should not have a say in determining what is taught to our kids. I reject that notion.
The whole purpose of having an elected School Board is so that the government school district is overseen by representatives of the community. They are there to inject the community’s values into everything from budgeting to safety protocols to extracurriculars and to, yes, curriculum. And if the School Board thinks that there is better use of time in an eighth grade language arts class than spending 40 days reading about the “Sustainability of the US Food Supply Chain,” then the School Board should change the curriculum — experts or not. The School Board should not micromanage curriculum, but neither should they abandon their responsibility for it.
The other primary difference between the candidates just comes down to track record. As we learned in the School Board election last year, it is easy for candidates to bamboozle voters by touting fiscal responsibility and transparency and then abandon those values when elected. Both Rebholz and Zwygart are relative newcomers to engaging in the issues of the school district.
Meanwhile, Schmiege is the only incumbent in the race. Running for his second term, he would be the most senior member of the School Board and the only member who has been part of a search for a superintendent. He has a rock solid track record of fiscal responsibility and thoughtful leadership on the school board. He is one of the only members of the School Board willing to continually work on the boring things like revamping old policies and strictly adhering to rules governing a public board. He has also remained transparent and open to the community throughout his term. There is never any doubt about where Schmiege stands on an issue or whether or not he will stick to his convictions. He is a rock.
Weigand has been actively involved in district issues as a parent and citizen for years. She has served on the district’s Human Growth and Development Committee and is serving on the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee. Weigand is a regular feature at School Board meetings and frequently offers insightful input. Like Schmiege, there is never any doubt as to Weigand’s convictions or whether or not she will waver from them under pressure.
All four candidates say many of the same things, but only Schmiege and Weigand have the years of public history backing up those statements. They have both earned a seat on the board.
Win or lose, I truly hope that all four candidates remained involved in shaping the district’s future.
Monte Schmiege, the only incumbent running for the West Bend School Board, took issue with a recent column by John Torinus in the Washington County Daily News. Schmiege responded with this today:
Yes, I do have an agenda: I focus on student success
The Daily News recently ran an editorial by John Torinus on the recent primary, including selection of candidates for the school board election April 3. My claim to fame, according to Torinus, is having an agenda “beyond management oversight of the district,” in contrast to the board members he favors. I think all board members have an intense interest in what is best for the students, myself included, and all candidates come to the board with agendas.
Torinus does not clarify what management oversight means or what kind of agendas or judgments form the basis for such oversight. He says I am a “declared conservative.” I’ll take that. He says I am a “stickler for strict adherence to regulations, policies and procedures.” I’ll take that. Isn’t that what management oversight should be, as opposed to personal agendas that ignore regulations, policies and procedures?
Torinus calls me out for a policy proposal that suggested people addressing the board do so from their personal perspectives. It did not prevent group representation. Jason Penterman, of the WBEA, objected to the proposal with reasons, and Torinus joined in. Subsequently, Torinus wouldn’t take as satisfactory my statement that the Policy Committee would review the proposal.
Torinus typically has good, reasoned arguments in his writings. I can agree with him much of the time. In the matter of the West Bend School Board election, he and I seem to have some differences of opinion.
My agenda is stability, sustainability and student success. The district has gone through a great deal of turmoil. We need to establish stability. Capital and compensation plans must be financially sustainable. Most of all, we need to focus on student success, which is a function of many decisions, big and small. Add one more goal, safety.
First, who are the 505 idiots who voted for Carl Lundin? He’s the guy who dropped out. We’ll call that the “ignorant voter” quotient.
Second, the two candidates who identify themselves as Conservatives, Mary Weigand and Monte Schmiege, won convincing pluralities. Schmiege is an incumbent and one of two conservatives on the current board. Weigand is a well-known local conservative. This is, perhaps, not surprising in a conservative community like West Bend, but the results of the past few local elections seemed to indicate a softening of that demographic feature. This election seems to indicate that perhaps the previous elections were anomalies.
Third, turnout for this primary election was 35% higher than the general election last year for school board (22.53% vs. 16.68%). This is a pattern that we have seen in West Bend for a while. There is a vocal, committed, organized liberal minority. They vote more reliably than the conservative majority. This means that turnout is everything. When turnout is below 20%, liberals can win victories in local elections like they did last April. When turnout is higher, there just aren’t enough liberals to overcome the conservative vote. The liberals can turn out every single liberal in the county and they can’t win if there is even a moderate conservative turnout. It’s just math.
Let’s hope that turnout is decent for the April election. Given that the Supreme Court race is likely to be very heated, I think Schmiege and Weigand have the inside track to the school board. That bodes well for the district.
His comment about the new school board having a different vision is spot on. The board that hired him was decidedly more rational and results-oriented than the current board. The new majority on the current board has proven to be leftist, opaque, and unprofessional. It was clear from the beginning that they did not like Superintendent Olson and were working to force him out. They succeeded and can now fill the position with someone more in line with their leftist agenda. This comes at a time when the district is implementing a new compensation plan for teachers and will be asking the voters for a more money via referendum.
I wish Superintendent Olson and his family the best. He moved his family to West Bend and invested in the community for a job where I’m sure he planned to make a positive impact. Unfortunately, he has become another victim of this dysfunctional district.
On another note, there is an election in April for two board seats. One of them is open. The other is currently held by one of the two remaining conservatives on the board, Monte Schmiege, who has not declared whether he will seek reelection. The district needs some sensible conservatives to run for the open seat and for Schmiege to run for reelection.
There’s some good, some bad, and some worrisome stuff at the meeting of the West Bend School Board last night.
First, the good… The School Board held the property tax levy flat. Actually, it was a $21 decrease, but it’s statistically flat. This is the most important number when looking at the property tax burden. The levy is the amount of taxes the district will be demanding from taxpayers. Once that number is set, the tax rate (mill rate) is a function of the aggregate property values. At that levy, the tax rate is expected to drop by 5.8% with a 6.1% increase in property values.
Second, the bad. The approved budget has about $1 million more revenue than expenditures. According to the story in the Daily News:
It was also explained that the current budget had a revenue with more than $1 million than expected expidentures.
It was recommended that the cushion of funding go to the fund to rebuild the Jackson Elementary school.
Board members Tim Stellmacher and Ken Schmidt liked the recommendation.
Board Vice President Nancy Justman suggested a smaller amount go toward the Jackson fund and Board President Tiffany Larson asked if some of the funds could go toward current needs.
Ummmnnnn…. did it not occur to anyone to just not spend it and let the taxpayers keep it? By definition, if something did not make it into the budget, then one can’t call it a “current need.” If it was needed, they would have budgeted it. The School Board had an opportunity to actually reduce spending and taxes and chose to just keep the money as a slush fund. That’s not cool.
On a side note, the school district spends about $2 MILLION per year on travel. Where the heck are they all going?
The plan is to rework the compensation plan for teachers for the 2017-2018 school year. They plan to present and approve a new plan in January. The committee that has been evaluating and putting together the new plan is comprised of teachers. More specifically, it is comprised of some of the most activist, union, liberal teachers in the district like WBEA President and Washington County Democratic Party Chair Tanya Lohr and WBEA representatives Jason Penterman, Kara Petzhold, and Shelly Krueger. As one would expect, the compensation framework they are advocating is a teachers union’s wishlist.
It is also questionable how in a district with hundreds and hundreds of teachers, the WBEA leadership ended up with so many people on this committee. It stinks of an end-around of the Act 10 prohibition of the School Board negotiating with the union. Specifically, Act 10 says:
The municipal employer is prohibited from bargaining collectively with a collective bargaining unit containing a general municipal employee with respect to any of the following: 1. Any factor or condition of employment except wages, which includes only total base wages and excludes any other compensation, which includes, but is not limited to, overtime, premium pay, merit pay, performance pay, supplemental compensation, pay schedules, and automatic pay progressions.
While the union dominating this committee does not appear to be a direct violation of Act 10, it sure is a fig leaf of a difference.
Board member Monte Schmiege made the excellent point after the presentation that there was a lot of talk about teachers and not much talk about students or student outcomes. I would encourage the school board to evaluate any compensation plan on the basis of driving better student outcomes. And those evaluations should be based on actual performance data and not on a subjective “happy teachers = good teaching” equation.
What this shows is the value of campaigning. Schmiege was the only candidate who really got out there and campaigned and the results show it. Also, he campaigned as a strong conservative and was rewarded in this conservative district. He’ll do a great job on the board. Congratulations to both of the winners and a heartfelt “thank you” to Vinney Pheng for his service.