Boots & Sabers

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Tag: West Bend School Board

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

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. You really should pick up a copy. Here’s a taste to encourage you:

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.

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.

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.

No More Conservatives in West Bend

At least, not on the West Bend School Board. Here’s a story this weekend from the Washington County Daily News.

WEST BEND — April 2 will bring an important question to West Bend residents, as well as an opportunity to decide what the West Bend Joint School District’s school board will look like for the foreseeable future. With Ken Schmidt and Tiffany Larson taking a step back, three candidates have begun their campaign to fill those seats on the Board of Education. Paul Fischer, Christopher Bach and Erin Dove will have their names on the April election ballot. They shared their thoughts on the $47 million referendum.

I’ll save you some reading… all of them support the referendum. Once Ken Schmidt leaves the board in a few weeks, there will no longer be any conservatives on the West Bend School Board. Some of the board members may be conservative in their personal lives, but that govern like liberals.

Let’s review… in the past year, the school board has decided to shut down the district’s only charter school. They have given teachers a million-dollar across-the-board pay increase. They abandoned merit pay for teachers. They used the liberal playbook to get a massive spending referendum on the ballot. They were exposed for allowing multiple teachers to use class time to ram liberal ideology down the throats of kids. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to decline and the educational outcomes continue to be mediocre.

Tell me how this behavior is different from what we see in Madison or Milwaukee?

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.”

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.


West Bend School Board Votes for Referendum

In the least surprising news of the new year, the West Bend School Board has decided to ask the taxpayers to go further into debt to build a new school in a district with mediocre performance and declining enrollment. Neat.

Jan. 15, 2019 – West Bend, WI – The West Bend School Board set the initial resolution for the April 2, 2019 referendum question at $47 million. The true cost with interest at about 4.25 percent, according to John Mehan with Robert W. Baird & Co., will bring the total to $74 million as that will include $27 million in interest.


Cobbling together the outstanding debt of $34,431,000 plus the proposed referendum and interest of $74 million the total, if approved in April 2019 would bring, the West Bend School District debt on referendums to $108,431,000.

That’s roughly $1,400 in debt for every man, woman, and child in the school district. Nuts.

Meanwhile, they are killing the district’s charter school.

Jan. 15, 2019 – West Bend, WI – Parents and students lined up at Monday night’s West Bend School Board meeting to express their displeasure about the district’s plan to possibly eliminate Pathways Charter School.

According to  documentation posted on the School District site a recommendation will be made for Pathways to be eliminated.

We wouldn’t want innovation or anything crazy like that in the stolid, old, 20th-century education model being offered by the West Bend School District.


West Bend School Board Needs Conservative Candidates

I pulled this blurb out of Judy Steffes’ Around the Bend piece.

Two candidates have now filed papers to run for two open seats on the West Bend School Board as two incumbents have filed non-candidacy papers.

According to Deb Roensch from the Education Service Center said incumbents Ken Schmidt and Tiffany Larson have both filed non-candidacy papers. The pair were elected to the West Bend School Board in April 2016.

On Friday, Dec. 21, Paul Fischer, an elder at Kettlebrook Church, filed candidacy papers. On Dec. 23, Erin Dove, posted an announcement on social media about her intentions to run. A portion of her announcement is below.

We’re losing a great, solid conservative in Ken Schmidt, who was sadly orphaned on the board in the last couple of years. He’ll be missed. As a staunch advocate for the WBEA’s agenda, Tiffany Larson won’t be missed at all. This is the chance to put two good conservatives on the board to begin to check the agenda of the liberal school board majority. The school referendum will almost certainly be on the same April ballot, so the battle lines should be clearly drawn.

I don’t know Erin Dove and I look forward to hearing her views. I did have a chance to hear from Paul Fischer at the Concerned Citizens of Washington County meeting last week. Given that he supports a referendum to build a new Jackson Elementary, thinks teachers haven’t received a raise in 5 years (don’t know where that talking point came from), couldn’t think of anything to cut in the face of declining enrollment, and generally regurgitated all of the local liberal talking points about the schools, I won’t be supporting him.

We need some good conservatives to run for school board. Here’s how to do it.

The deadline to file papers to run for School Board is 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.  Declaration of Candidacy form and a Campaign Registration statement must be completed and can be dropped off at the Education Service Center, 735 S. Main Street, West Bend (across from Badger Middle School).

Bear in mind that they are closed until the 2nd, so you’d have to drop off the paperwork on Wednesday.

West Bend School Board Settles on Referendum Amount

To be clear, this isn’t the final decision to go to referendum. This is just to set the amount that they would ask for IF they go to referendum. But I think we all know that they are going to referendum…

Kirkegaard recommended three amounts for the referendum: $50 million — the full amount discussed in the past, which doesn’t take into consideration the remaining amount in the funds, $48 million — with a specification that the sum total will not exceed $50 million, or $47 million.

The ballot question has to be in its final form by Jan. 22, so the board needed to agree on an amount. One member said enrollment projections are not there to support requesting $50 million so the board should ask for as little money as possible. Another member asked if it was possible to simplify the design in order to lower the cost and if any remaining funds would be restricted.

Fund 46 is restricted because the money cannot be spent until at least five years after it was deposited. If the entire fund is spent, that time restarts and the board will be more restricted in the future, so they did not want to spend the remaining amount. However, they countered this with the desire to spend as little as possible and ensure the community knew they were not being frivolous with tax dollars.

They settled on $47 million to send the message that they are only asking for what they need. This number will be included in the articles that bond counsel will prepare for the next meeting.

Yes… asking for $47 million instead of $50 million really shows fiscal responsibility /sarcasm. Interest on debt like that will run the total obligation to taxpayers up to about $80 million based on current rates. Follow the link to see the video if you want to see the discussion.

West Bend School Board Meets Tonight

It’s a little hard to keep up, but there are three consecutive meetings of the West Bend School Board tonight for the purpose of buying land and considering a referendum for next year. Because, you know, fancy new buildings and more real estate will improve education *smh*

The Washington County Insider did us the favor of sorting through the announcements and summarizing them for us. Attend if you can. These are open to the public and all of the people who want to spend your money will be there.

NOTE that the purchase of the property requires the approval of the electors. The electors are any adult residents of the district, so show up and VOTE. Again, the people who want to spend the money will be there. If you would rather not, show up and vote in the SECOND meeting at 6:15.

Nov. 26, 2018 – West Bend, WI – Tonight, Monday, Nov. 26 the West Bend School Board will hold three meetings. Agenda items include a proposed April 2019 referendum and land purchase in Jackson.



The first meeting Nov. 26 is a Board Work Session at 5:15 p.m.  The meeting will be held at the Education Service Center, 735 S. Main Street, West Bend
5:15 pm, Board Room.  The meeting is open to the public.



The second meeting Nov. 26 is in the Education Service Center, 735 S. Main Street, West Bend 6:15 pm, Board Room Meeting of Electors  The meeting is open to the public.
The final meeting on Monday is the Regular Board of Education Meeting Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 Location: Education Service Center, 735 S. Main Street, West Bend  Time: 6:30 p.m., Board Room. The meeting is open to the public.
Note: Action Items !. 6:58 Resolution to approve the purchase of certain real property.
Category Action Items Subject  6:58 Resolution to approve the purchase of certain real property

West Bend School Board to Buy More Property

Wow. I see that the West Bend School Board is up to its usual tricks. They gave notice yesterday – the Friday after Thanksgiving – for a special meeting on Monday to vote on spending $750,000 on real estate in Jackson for a possible future school. This is despite presiding over a district with declining enrollment and $130 million in debt. Here’s the rationale:

Regardless of whether the board decides to have a referendum in spring of 2019, the property to the north of our vacant land would make our property a much better site for an elementary building. Furthermore, the purchase of this property would enable the Village of Jackson to move ahead with their plans.

It’s cute how they pretend that they might not go to referendum in spring.

Anyway, be sure to attend if you’re in town. It’s your only chance to weigh in.

The final meeting on Monday is the Regular Board of Education Meeting Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 Location: Education Service Center, 735 S. Main Street, West Bend  Time: 6:30 p.m., Board Room. The meeting is open to the public.
Note: Action Items !. 6:58 Resolution to approve the purchase of certain real property.

West Bend School Board Considers Buying Property

The West Bend School Board will meet tonight to discuss the potential purchase of property for a new Jackson Elementary School.

Nov. 12, 2018 – West Bend, WI – During tonight’s Monday meeting, Nov. 12, of the West Bend School Board a discussion will be held on the “Potential land purchase in Jackson.”

According to the district website:

Topic and Background:

In approximately 2009 the West Bend School District purchased a 6.38 acre parcel of land on Jackson Dr. in the Village of Jackson in anticipation of reconstructing the existing Jackson Elementary. Since the purchased property was small for an elementary school, discussions occurred at the time between the district and village about securing additional land to the north that was owned by the Village of Jackson.

In recognition that the district was moving toward the building a new Jackson Elementary on the new site, the Jackson DPW moved to a new site and the Village began searching for a property on which to construct a new safety building to house the police and fire departments.

In early 2017, the district and the village agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding to have appraisals done on the existing Jackson Elementary, Fire Department and DPW properties. Each party paid for the appraisal of their individual properties and agreed to exchange the documents. Each party recognized the importance of securing the additional property for any potential new school.

Within the last several weeks the Village has put in an offer on the site for the new safety building. The offer has been accepted and closing is set for mid – December. The village offer to purchase is contingent upon the sale of the existing DPW and Fire Department parcels.

Since a new safety building would not be complete prior to the sale of the property, the district would lease the fire department back to the village for a minimal sum. The village would be responsible for all maintenance and utilities associated with the building.


Regardless of whether the board decides to have a referendum in spring of 2019, the property to the north of our vacant land would make our property a much better site for an elementary building. Furthermore, the purchase of this property would enable the Village of Jackson to move ahead with their plans.


Total purchase price $750,000.00.

More at the Washington County Insider.

So the School Board wants to buy property for a new building that they don’t have funding for in a district that has declining enrollment when they are already $130 million is debt.


Live Broadcast of West Bend School Board

For some reason, the live stream of meetings of the West Bend School Board have not worked for months due to “technical difficulties.” I know… in an age when I can live stream anything in 3 seconds with my phone, that excuse sounds ridiculous. Thankfully, the Washington County Insider is on the case!

You can watch the live stream here.

They are going to talk about the union contract being at an impasse tonight. They are already late, so there’s no telling when it will come up.

UPDATE: Sure enough, the school board declared an impasse after two meetings with the union and imposed the district’s last offer – a blanket 2% base increase including those at the top of the scale. Given the lack of bleating from the usual union folks, it seems that they are pretty happy with it.

Once again, this School Board has failed to utilize their power to create a compensation structure that rewards better student outcomes and the teachers who generate them. In the West Bend School District, every teacher is treated the same, so everyone will trend to the middle, or just good enough to not get fired. Mediocrity throughout.

West Bend Teacher Union Negotiations at an Impasse

From the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting:

Recommended Action
I move to declare negotiations with the WBEA for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 at impasse, and to implement the District’s final proposal for both years.

According to the law, if the two parties can’t agree, the school board can declare the negotiations at an impasse. This then allows the board to impose their last best offer.

What I find odd is the timing. When the School Board held the annual meeting less than three weeks ago, they specifically noted that they had not yet begun negotiations with the union. It was a point of contention because the proposed budget had about a million dollars in compensation increases, but no information on how that money was to be allocated.

Now, less than three week later, the board has conducted exhaustive negotiations for last year’s and this year’s compensation plans to the point that they are at an impasse? It strikes me that either the negotiating team at the district has a hair trigger at declaring an impasse, which would be unfair to teachers, or that this is a predetermined tactic because the school district is giving the teachers everything they want anyway. By declaring an impasse, the union can continue the fiction of victimhood.

Or I suppose a third scenario could be that the district was already conducting negotiations at the time of the annual meeting and simply lied about it. I don’t think that’s likely.

West Bend Annual Meeting, Budget, and Tax Levy

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

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

On the agenda this year is:

7. Consideration of Proposed Resolutions

a. Resolution No. 1 – Tax Levy

b. Resolution No. 2 – Disposal of District Property

c. Resolution No. 3 – Board Member Compensation

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Bend Referendum Fight is Not Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Bend School Board Suspends Referendum Effort

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



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