Tag Archives: West Bend School Board

School Board President Advocates Violating District Policy to Conceal Referendum Costs

During the West Bend School Board meeting last night, the Board President said:

Schmidt also wanted to know if the interest cost would be on the ballot and again voiced his concern about student enrollment projections.

Board President Joel Ongert said, “It will not be on the ballot.”

That would not only be dishonest to the taxpayers by concealing the true cost of the referendum, but it would be a direct violation of the School Board’s own policy 615. That policy 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, whether it is a facilities referendum, operating referendum, or any other type. The genuine transparency regarding the planned use of public funds provides for a much more fully informed electorate, facilitates better communication with (and within) the community regarding referendum details, and builds trust among all District stakeholders.

Any proposed referendum presented to the District’s Board of Education for approval must disclose the following information and be available for review by the public upon request

1. The total principal dollar amount of the borrowing (typically done through the issuance of long-term bonds (debt)) over its entire term.

2. The total dollar amount of interest expense of the borrowing (i.e., typically a certain annual interest rate is applied to the long-term bonds to calculate the total interest expense over its entire term.

3. The total dollar amount of the referendum, including all principal (see item #1 above), interest (see item #2 above) and any other (e.g., brokerage, bond issuance) costs.

4. All major assumptions and factors used to arrive at item #3 above (i.e., the interest rate used in calculating total interest expense, term of bonds (i.e., time period of the debt), exact nature/type of the bonds, etc.).

If the referendum proposal/resolution is adopted by the Board, any additional communication (e.g., mailed materials to District residents, postings on the District website, communication to media, presentations at Board meetings and other meetings within the community) regarding the referendum must continue to disclose items #1 through #4 above.

I highlighted the relevant part of the policy.

The policy is laudable and has been on the books since 2012. Why is the School Board President seeking to violate their own policy and conceal relevant costs from the taxpayers? Will the other school board members follow his lead?

West Bend School Board Eyes $85 Million Referendum as Enrollment Declines

Yikes.

WEST BEND — A conservative estimate places interest cost for a $50 million referendum at about $35 million. The referendum funds would build a new Jackson Elementary and renovate parts of the West Bend high schools.

Baird director of public finance, Brian Brewer, estimated the cost using an interest rate of 4.75 percent. Market rates are between 3.5 and 3.75 percent. No action was taken by the board related to referendum information during the Monday meeting.

“I want to go into this conservative,” Brewer said. “I believe rates are poised to be higher than they are.”

That seems like a reasonable estimate. There are some other fascinating comments in the story. Like this one:

The Jackson fund was also discussed by the board and it was recommended by Bray Architects that it be used to pay down debt rather than reduce the referendum amount.

So rather than use the money that the district has been saving for years to pay cash for some of the building, Bray is recommending that we borrow it anyway. This is horrible fiscal management if the board takes their recommendation. It is always better to pay cash, if you have it, than to borrow the money and pay interest on it. Why would Bray recommend that the taxpayers pay interest on money they already have? because then Bray gets control over spending it.

Then there is this:

The amount of taxes paid for school debt will also reduce after debt from previous projects is paid of.

It is not clear if that is the reporter’s comment or if it is a summation of information given at the meeting. Most likely, it is the latter. It’s a nonsensical statement. The West Bend School District currently has about $130 million in outstanding debt. Our taxes are paying off this debt. If the taxpayers approve the referendum, that debt would balloon to about $205 million. That’s roughly $5,125 for every adult in the district.

The suggestion in that statement is that once we pay off some of the old debt, it won’t “cost” any more to pay the new debt. That’s BS. The debt is the debt and it must be paid. The fact that we pay off some old debt does not make the new debt any less. That would be like saying that buying a new car is free because you paid off the old car. That’s how the financially illiterate get themselves into trouble.

West Bend School Board Meets About Referendum Tonight

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

Education Service Center

735 S. Main Street, West Bend

August 13, 2018

6:30 pm

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

West Bend teachers did get raises

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Parks

West Bend

West Bend Teacher Rejects Merit Pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The community rejected this.

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

Why do that again?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

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

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

At issue is the manufactured facilities “crisis” at Jackson Elementary and the West Bend high schools. While the buildings are both perfectly functional and have decades of use left in them if properly maintained, some folks would like to remodel or replace them. Even though buildings have no impact on whether or not kids get a good education compared to what happens inside those buildings, constructing school buildings is easier than doing the hard work necessary to improve educational outcomes.

To that end, the school board created a Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year that spent months in what proved to be manipulated process designed to tell the school board what it wanted to hear. Then the school board spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an equally fraudulent community survey that was also designed to tell it what it wanted to hear. On the weight of these two sham activities, the school board is now considering a referendum.

The survey results were presented to the school board last week. Of the approximately 40,000 adults in the district, 2,815 surveys were returned, constituting a 7 percent return rate. Of those 2,815 surveys, 93 percent lived in the district and 17 percent were employees of the school district. Even though the survey was disproportionally weighted with district employees and had a small sample, only 53 percent of respondents supported building a new elementary school in Jackson. The school board is interpreting the survey as telling them that the taxpayers would support a $50 million (not including interest) referendum.

There are many reasons that the taxpayers should not support a referendum in the West Bend School District, but let us highlight perhaps the biggest three.

First, despite the claims of builders and architects who make money from school construction, there is no correlation between fancy school buildings and the quality of education that takes place inside them. Once a minimal standard of safety and function are met, trendy reading nooks and naturally lit atriums do not help one child get a better education. If the school board wants to spend an additional $50 million of the taxpayers’ money, they should at least use the money to provide kids with a better education.

Second, enrollment in the West Bend School District is declining and is projected to continue the slide for the foreseeable future. This has almost nothing to do with the school district itself. It is a reflection of demographic trends and the expansion of alternative educational options. Online learning, School Choice, homeschooling, etc., all erode from an already shrinking student population. Why should the taxpayers invest an additional $50 million to build larger buildings for fewer kids?

Third, the school board has demonstrated poor stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources by failing to fully utilize the power given to it by Act 10 to manage the largest expense in the budget — personnel. Immediately after Act 10, previous school boards began down the path of implementing things like merit pay and benefits reform, but all of that progress stopped a couple of years ago.

Just last week, the Wisconsin Department of Administration released detailed description of the health insurance plans for every school district in Wisconsin. The data shows the least expensive family health insurance plan that the West Bend School District provides costs the taxpayers a whopping $21,864 per year. That compares to an average of $20,062 for all Wisconsin school districts and a national average of $18,764. The other plans offered are even more expensive. The West Bend School District is overpaying for health insurance.

Of that premium, a district employee can pay as little as $588 per year, or 2.7 percent, for their share of the premium if they receive a wellness incentive by passing a wellness screening and not smoking. This compares with an average of 11.7 percent for all Wisconsin school districts, 29 percent for state and local government employees across the nation, and 33 percent for private sector employees across the nation. On top of that, the district provides an onsite clinic for employees at no cost to the employees. Such clinics are supposed to lower the cost of health insurance, but the West Bend School District continues to pay well above the average cost for health insurance and asks employees to pay well below the average for their share.

A little quick math shows that if the West Bend School District simply paid the national average for a family health insurance plan ($18,764) and required employees to pay the national average share of the cost for state and local government employees (29 percent), it would save the taxpayers of the district $7,954 per family plan.

To date, the school board has failed to demonstrate sensible fiscal management on behalf of the citizens of the district.

Before the school board asks the taxpayers to sink tens of millions of more dollars into buildings for a district with declining enrollment, they must at least show that they are willing to use the tools available to them to manage the money they already spend.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online today. I think you can guess what the topic is from the headline, but here’s how it starts:

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

Go pick up a paper to read the whole thing. In the same paper, you’ll read a story on the front page about the declining enrollments in the district. We also get a first glimpse of the new Superintendent at work. It appears that he’s already all in for a referendum based on his few weeks living in the community:

During his first board meeting, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said the Jackson area has three housing developments on the way, one of which will have more than 100 houses.

 

Survey Says!

Back in June, I wrote:

The West Bend School District has sent out the survey asking about the appetite for a referendum. As explained when it was announced, this is the survey created by the propaganda group School Perceptions. You can see the whole survey here: school-referendum-survey-2018. As expected, it is more of a propaganda piece than a survey. Given that the survey is designed to elicit a specific, pro-referendum, response and I have almost no faith in the accurate tabulation of the results, I hesitate to even go through it.

As predicted, the survey returned the results that the School Board paid to get.

More than 2,800 community members and staff of the West Bend School District responded to the survey. Non-parent, non-staff community members were least supportive of a referendum, with 22 percent in favor of doing nothing for the aging Jackson Elementary and high schools.

I would note that there are about 40,000 residents of the district, so that’s about a 7% return rate. And the controls on submitting multiple surveys were pretty loose.

Among all taxpayers surveyed, which excludes some staff and parents, 50 percent of taxpayers supported a new elementary or a remodel. The town of Jackson supported a new building at a rate of 62 percent, and the village of Jackson supported a new school at a rate of 67 percent.

[…]

At the high school, the highest support was for increased safety and the lowest support was for a renovation of both the weight room and locker room.

The cost of building a new Jackson Elementary and doing every update for the high schools would be about $80 million. If all projects suggested by the survey were completed at the high school, that alone would cost more than $50 million.

I look forward to seeing the actual results with the detail behind it. All we have right now is a news story, which is just relaying what the district mouthpiece said.

Here comes your referendum, West Bend.

West Bend School District Releases Referendum “Survey”

The West Bend School District has sent out the survey asking about the appetite for a referendum. As explained when it was announced, this is the survey created by the propaganda group School Perceptions. You can see the whole survey here: school-referendum-survey-2018. As expected, it is more of a propaganda piece than a survey. Given that the survey is designed to elicit a specific, pro-referendum, response and I have almost no faith in the accurate tabulation of the results, I hesitate to even go through it. Still, as a dutiful citizen, everyone who received one should answer it. Here are a few key facts to consider when responding:

  1. No, there’s no free money. The survey says that “in 2019, the District will pay off a portion of the referendum debt from past building projects, and by 2028 the District will make the final payment on all existing referendum debt.” That’s misleading and is intended to give the impression that there is free money to be had.In truth, the district is already carrying the debt from previous referenda to the tune of over $60 million. As with any debt, the district is slowly whittling down the principal, but the interest if front-loaded in the payment structure. What happens next year is that the payments go down a bit as part of the schedule, but the debt is still being paid off. The Survey positions that as “this drop in loan payments gives the community an opportunity to borrow up to $35 million in facility upgrades with no tax increase over the current level.”Let’s put this in terms of personal finance… this is like when a person has a $10k credit card limit. After paying on it for a while, it frees up $1k of credit limit and the minimum payment has dropped. The person says, “I can borrow another $1,000 and my minimum payment will only increase back to what it already was.” That’s exactly how people run their lives without ever getting out of debt.Essentially, what the District is saying in the Survey is, “we have increased your tax burden through previous referenda and we can borrow and spend another $35 million just by keeping your taxes as high as they are now.” They are assuming that the current baseline tax burden, which is already inflated by previous referenda, is the new normal.It doesn’t have to be. The alternative is to pay off the previous referenda as planned and enjoy a tax DECREASE.
  2. The numbers cited are not the total debt. The West Bend School Board actually did a great thing a couple of years ago. They passed a policy that said that when talking about proposed debt, they needed to be honest about the total amount. The needed to include the project interest that is part of any debt. They ignored that policy in this Survey. Whether talking about $40 million or $80 million, remember that’s borrowed money with interest for years.For example, the $22.8 million referendum that the voters passed back in 2012 was actually a $31.975 million debt paid back over 15 years. We’re still paying on that. So if the voters pass a $80 million referendum, the total payback would likely be between $100 million and $115 million – depending on the interest rate and payback period. At 4% over 15 years, it’s $106.5 million.
  3. The Survey starts with a falsehood. In the introduction, the Survey says, “the Board of Education created a Citizens Facility Advisory Committee (CFAC) last summer. The CFAC, consisting of 28 parents, business leaders, and community members, has studied the educational and facility needs at each location and developed the options explored in the survey.”That’s just not true. Not only was CFAC a sham that was run with a predetermined outcome, but some of the information presented in the Survey was never discussed by CFAC. For example, the Survey discusses the “need” to remodel the cafeteria for $2.2 million. The cafeteria was not covered in the CFAC information packet and I’m told it was not part of any discussion.You will also note that in the CFAC schedule (page 8), the “Committee Presentation of Recommendation to School Board” is scheduled for Late May/ Early June. Well, it’s June 1st and the survey that is supposed to be based on those recommendations is already issued.So what the District is doing is trying to pretend that all of the “needs” cited in the Survey were identified and vetted by a group of concerned community members. It gives the impression that this was a “bottom up” assessment that included community input. Not so. They are using CFAC as cover to give a false impression to the community. It is a dishonest tactic. Frankly, I would be very angry if I had donated my time to CFAC and was used in this way.
  4. Remember that enrollment is declining.  Enrollment has been declining for a few years (see page 83). Specifically in Jackson Elementary, it served a peak of 536 kids in 2009. This year it has 370 kids and is the smallest elementary school in the district by enrollment. Part of the decline was due to a restructuring of the middle schools, but it has declined every year since then too.  The overall district enrollment projections from the February board meeting are below. You will notice that the district is projecting a steady decline in enrollment over the next several years. This has very little to do with the quality of the district. It is a demographic trend of a lower birthrate combined with increasing educational choice. This begs two questions. First, why would we invest in a massive school building expansion for a district that will serve almost 900 fewer kids in 2023 than it did in 2014? Second, as enrollment declines, so does State Aid. That means that more and more of the tax burden will be shifted to local taxpayers unless the district actually reduces spending and taxes to match their enrollment. Why isn’t the district actually reducing spending and taxes if they are serving fewer kids?

wb-enrollment

 

Credit where credit is due… the Survey does provide an option of “I would not support any referendum.” I encourage everyone to check that box.

Former West Bend Superintendent Hired in Ashland

This is good news for Erik Olson and the taxpayers of West Bend. You might remember that Olson was forced out by the West Bend School Board last year for being too conservative (my interpretation – not something the school board will comment on). The School Board gave Olson an incredibly generous separation package for reasons that they never sufficiently explained. It was:

Basically, the agreement pays out Olson for the remainder of his contract. He will receive the amount of his full salary until June 30, 2019 – about $238k. He’ll also get $10k for moving expenses and about $10k for unused vacation time. The school district will also pay for his benefits until June 30, 2019, or until he gets a new job. So the total actual amount is uncertain because of the variability of the cost of benefits, but it’s safe to say that the taxpayers of the West Bend School District are on the hook for something north of $300,000 to buy out Olson’s contract.

The School Board essentially had to buy out his contract because they lacked the sufficient cause to fire him. Thankfully, by getting another job so quickly, Olson has let the taxpayers of West Bend off the hook for tens of thousands of dollars.

West Bend School Board Announces 3 Finalists for Superintendent

From the email.

Donald A. Kirkegaard — Prior to being appointed by the governor of South Dakota as secretary of education for the state in 2017, Kirkegaard was superintendent of the Meade School District and Britton-Hecla School District for nearly 23 years. He was also a principal in the Britton-Hecla School District for six years. Kirkegaard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from South Dakota State University, a master’s degree in school administration from Northern State University, and an educational specialist degree in school district administration from the University of South Dakota.

Christopher D. Peterson — Christopher Peterson has 23 years of experience in public education, including nine as superintendent of Howards Grove School District. His experience includes serving as principal in the Manitowoc Public School District, Kimberly Area School District, and the School District of Wausaukee, and teaching in the Little Chute Area School District. Peterson earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s degree in educational administration from Marian University, superintendent certification from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and is working on a doctorate at Marian University.

Thomas J. Hoh, Ph.D. — Thomas Hoh has 20 years of experience in public education and currently serves as the executive director of secondary education for the Green Bay Area Public School District. Prior to joining the Green Bay Area Public School District, Hoh was a principal in the Ripon Area School District and also worked in the Kaukauna Area School District and Neenah Joint School District. Hoh earned his bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a doctorate in education leadership from Marian University.

Liberal West Bend School Board targets November for $80 million referendum

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

As the West Bend School Board continues to search for a new superintendent after the unfortunate departure of the previous one, it is also aggressively following the liberal playbook to bamboozle the taxpayers into approving a new, massive, $80 million (plus interest) spending referendum. While every one of the school board members ran for office on a platform of conservatism and transparency, their governing is indistinguishable from the arrogant liberal school boards in Milwaukee or Madison.

Since Act 10, the liberals in Wisconsin have fought for more spending and stumbled upon a process to get school spending referendums passed that plays on the fears and best intentions of goodhearted people. The West Bend School Board is following that process and looking to take advantage of the projected “Blue Wave” in November to get more money from district taxpayers.

First, the School Board created the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year with a strong majority of members who were already convinced of the need to spend more money. The only questions were “on what” and “how much?” The board hired a company based in Milwaukee called Bray Architects to run the CFAC meetings. Bray brags on its website about the expensive building projects funded by referendums it helped get passed.

Bray did its job for the board and ran a rigid CFAC process that would only lead to the outcome that the board had predetermined. In one unguarded moment, the Bray facilitator admitted that “the decision to build a new Jackson school was made in the prior efforts.” The taxpayers of West Bend would be surprised to know the decision to build a new school was already made. When the facilitator was asked by a CFAC member about why they were even bothering with the committee, he answered, “because we need to help the community understand why a new Jackson is being considered.” In other words, CFAC was a sham propaganda tool from the beginning — not an actual advisory committee. Recent events confirm that conclusion.

After the bogus CFAC process, the School Board is taking the next step of spending $35,000 of our money to conduct a sham survey. The board pretends that the survey is going to be used to gauge public support for areferendum. The survey is a propaganda tool used to build support and, like CFAC, has a predetermined outcome.

The West Bend School Board has hired SchoolPerceptions to conduct the survey. A recent column

by Mark Belling exposed School Perceptions for the propaganda machine it is. Instead of conducting an objective survey that is honestly seeking answers, “the whole point of School Perceptions is to influence opinion through framing questions,” Belling writes.

The upcoming survey in West Bend will not be any different. It is telling that while asking respondents about a list of projects, there will not be an option to just say “no.” The West Bend School Board has decided to intentionally spend taxpayer money to conduct a propaganda effort under the guise of a survey with the intent to sell a spending referendum. It is a shameless act of liberal activism at taxpayers’ expense.

It is worth noting that while the West Bend School Board members are intent on jacking up spending and taxes, the transparency that constituents have enjoyed with previous boards has muddied. Many meetings are no longer recorded, meeting minutes are missing from the district’s website, the use of special and closed sessions has become the norm and many agenda items appeared to have been already discussed and decided before the public meetings. This School Board has made a practice of obscuring their actions from public view.

Furthermore, when I have repeatedly asked the elected school board members to comment on issues for more than a year, the only member of the School Board who has ever responded was Ken Schmidt. Every other Board member has refused to respond — including the two who were just elected. This is a sharp departure from previous years where even the most liberal School Board members were willing to chat with me over a cup of coffee. Elected officials have a duty to speak with their constituents. It is part of the job. Sadly, most of the members of the West Bend School Board lack the sense of duty or humility that good public service requires.

West Bend is proud of our conservatism and proud of our public schools. The School Board is failing our public schools by failing to govern as the conservatives they professed to be. Before they come hat in hand for another $80 million to spend, they need to get their house in order and rebuild the public trust that they have squandered.

 

Special Meeting to Spend Money Tonight

I’m not sure why the West Bend School Board has to do all of these things with special meetings and not as a part of their regular order, but here it is:

May 7, 2018 – West Bend, WI – The West Bend School Board will hold a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. tonight, to approve spending $35,000 on a community-wide survey regarding Jackson Elementary School and the West Bend High Schools.

The Washington County Insider has a lot of background information and financial information.

I’ll remind the gentle reader that this is part of a predictable liberal playbook to con the taxpayers into passing a referendum. The school board is about to spend, and has already spent, tens of thousands of dollars hiring sham companies whose sole purpose is to get school referenda passed. In this case, the district doesn’t even have a superintendent. This is all on the school board.

West Bend School Board Follows Liberal Playbook

From the Washington County Insider:

May 1, 2018 – West Bend, WI – Six members of the West Bend School Board, (Tiffany Larson was not in attendance), spent nearly two hours discussing a proposed survey to test the waters on a possible $80 million referendum. The referendums would focus on Jackson Elementary and the West Bend High Schools.

The survey would be created by Slinger-based School Perceptions. Bill Foster, the president of the company, was in attendance.

You can follow the link to watch the videos. Here’s where we are:

Last year, the School Board started down the path to a building referendum. They engaged an architectural firm that specialized in running a sham process to build support for the referendum. As I wrote back in August, they are following this proven roadmap to referendum:

  1. Form a committee loaded with people predisposed to support more spending
  2. The committee will conduct a needs analysis that has a very wide definition of “need”
  3. Conduct a propaganda campaign through the committee (so that it appears to be coming from the community) that bemoans all of the facility “needs” (expect to hear about sewage backups in Jackson Elementary again)
  4. The committee will determine that existing district resources are inadequate to meet the facilities “needs”
  5. Conduct a community survey with slanted questions, e.g. “Would you support a referendum to prevent the children having to learn while standing in a foot of sewage?”
  6. The committee recommends that the board go to referendum based on the survey results
  7. The School Board puts the referendum(s) on the ballot

They have completed steps 1 through 4. During the CFAC process, they even admitted that it was a sham designed to build support for a predetermined conclusion. You can find that video here.

Now they are working on step number 5. They have engaged School Perceptions, which is the go-to group for creating biased propaganda to build support for school referendums. Mark Belling wrote a column cataloging School Perceptions’ fraudulent business practices last week. Belling concluded:

Foster’s a hustler. He’s come up with a way to get hired by dozens of school districts who want to get referendums passed. Even my attempts to expose him aid his business by publicizing to other districts how he aids them in their referendum con jobs. What is not defensible is that school boards and superintendents are using public money to mislead their residents and pretending to conduct honey surveys.

Yes. That’s the same Foster who attended the West Bend School Board meeting last night.

Where are the alleged conservatives on the West Bend School Board? As far as I can tell, they are just walking down the exact same path to more spending and debt as any liberal school board would. They are using the same techniques. They are using the same propaganda. They are using the same companies. They are spending our tax dollars to advance this propaganda. And they are about to ask the taxpayers for tens of millions of dollars to dump into buildings in a district with flat-to-declining enrollment.

As far as I can tell, the Milwaukee School Board might as well be running the schools in West Bend. We would be getting the same result. But at least the liberals on the Milwaukee School Board are honest about their liberal intentions.

West Bend School Board Ousts President

You don’t see this very often. After only a year as president, Tiffany Larson was cast completely out of the leadership. Is this a tacit admission of the exceedingly poor management from the board in the past year?

The West Bend School District Board of Education restructured Monday after Kurt Rebholz and Christopher Zwygart took their oaths of office.

Joel Ongert was elected as the new president of the board with Nancy Justman as vice president. Tonnie Schmidt held her position as board clerk and Zwygart was named the board treasurer.

West Bend School Board Candidates on Bullying and Referenda

The Washington County Insider queried the West Bend School Board candidates regarding bullying and possible referenda for Jackson Elementary and the High School.

Their answers can be found in part 1 and part 2.

Overall, I would say that they are all thoughtful, considered responses.

Chris Zwygart Explains Position on Curriculum

Chris Zwygart had this letter to the editor today explaining his hand-off approach to curriculum.

I was privileged to chair the St. Joseph’s Hospital Board for several years. The majority of members were dedicated layperson volunteers from our community.

One of the board’s duties is overseeing quality and safety. We fulfilled those duties by discussing information received from highly trained medical experts from Froedtert and the hospital’s staff. The board explored how they developed the programs, the basis for their decisions and then applied good common sense before approving them. In other words, the board ensured the experts used a solid process to select safe, high-quality medical practices.

Imagine if a board member insisted on overriding the experts’ recommendation for the specific medications or amount of oxygen used during surgery. The public would be horrified. Consider the public controversy, distrust and staff dissatisfaction caused by that level of micromanagement.

Let’s translate this example to our school board. The board is responsible for approving curriculum. The board consists of part-time laypersons. If administrators and teachers propose new curriculum, the board should explore how it was developed, the basis for their decisions and apply common sense. The board should focus on the process the experts used to select high-quality curricula to advance the district’s goals. Imagine if board members insisted on imposing their choice of specific novels or scientific theories in our classrooms, contrary to the educational experts’ opinions. The public should be equally horrified. That micromanagement will breed distrust and controversy.

If elected to the school board, I join with Kurt Rebholz to ensure the board oversees the administration’s process for establishing curriculum based on collaboration with the educational experts this board hired, but not through micromanagement. Let’s not turn the specific content of our curriculum into a controversial political football up for grabs at every school board election.

– Chris Zwygart West Bend School Board Candidate

This is the same argument and example Zwygart used when I interviewed him before my column. There are two problems with this argument…

First, safety protocols in a surgery are not equivalent to curriculum choices. The former are based on provable scientific measures to prevent infection and not kill patients. The latter is very subjective and open to interpretation.

Let’s leave aside the issue of intelligent design that the lefties are focusing on. Zwygart’s and Rebholz’s position is that the school board should have almost no say in any curriculum. In the Engage NY curriculum currently being used by the school district, the 8th grade English Language Arts class lays out thus:

  • 20 Days – Launch
  • 40 Days – Refugees
  • 40 Days – Taking a Stand
  • 40 Days – Shakespeare
  • 40 Days – Sustainability of the US Food Supply Chain

Of the 180 days of school, 120 of them are being used to advance liberal social justice issues under the mantle of teaching language arts. According to Zwygart and Rebholz, the school board should not be empowered to make any changes to this because the “experts” already decided. They couldn’t replace “Taking a Stand” with “19th Century English Literature.” They couldn’t replace “Refugees” with “Immigration.” They couldn’t replace “Sustainability of US Food Supply Chain” with “Modern Fantasy Literature.” Remember the purpose of the class is to teach the language – the material is supposed to be just a means to an end. The material is just supposed to be interesting enough to hold the students’ attention.

Of course the school board should have an active role in determining curriculum. Yes, they should strongly defer to education experts and rely on their input, but the the school board has the final say. They cannot absolve themselves from responsibility for what is taught to the kids by delegating it to the staff.

The second thing wrong with Zwygart’s argument is that it could be used to render any elected board meaningless. He says, “The board consists of part-time laypersons” to point out that the school board members are not curriculum experts. That’s true. They are also not financial experts, safety experts, childhood development experts, HR experts, management experts, facilities experts, or anything else. Some of them may be an expert in one of those areas, but the board is not made up of experts. To take Zwygart’s argument to its conclusion, the school board should also defer to experts on all of those other topics. If that’s the case, then why do we even have an elected school board? Let’s just hire experts and let them run it.

Of course we have an elected school board for the precise reason that we want our local government schools to be run by the community – not the experts. We want the experts to implement the will of the people. We want Republican government – not a technocracy.

I really like Chris Zwygart and think he has a lot to offer the school district. In another slate of candidates, I could easily see myself supporting him. But I fundamentally disagree with his hands off approach to one of the most important responsibilities of the school board – determining what our kids are taught.

Proven conservatism for West Bend School Board

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.

West Bend School Board Candidate Forum

There was a forum last night with West Bend School Board candidates. I was not able to attend due to a prior commitment, but the Washington County Insider did a nice job of capturing the comments.

Here is Part 1.

And Part 2.

There is some interesting stuff in there and some differentiation when it comes to curriculum and the role of the school board. More on that later…

 

Schmiege Responds

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.