Tag Archives: West Bend School District

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

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

We have seen this movie before. Filled with wrath and vim, parents and students crowd a school board meeting to bewail budget cuts to their beloved programs. Only this time there was a surprise ending. The budget was never cut, and, if fact, the school district had used discretionary funds to cover overspending. The story is instructive for several reasons.

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

There is also the issue of the fiscal controls and financial decisions being made in the school district. The two forensics teams overspent their collective budget by 33% last year and are already running out of money this year. That does not happen by accident. It is a choice. Last year, the high school principals decided to cover the overage with some other pile of money. This year, Kirkegaard has said that “for the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect 2018-2019 expenses.” In short, there will be no accountability for the people overspending their budgets by over 30%. Instead, their overages are covered and the administration will just amend the budget to match expenses. It is no wonder that the adults did not take this opportunity to teach the kids about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. They are incapable of it themselves.

Finally, at the Jan. 6, School Board meeting, board member Nancy Justman beclowned herself in response to the hullabaloo. Instead of getting the facts and representing the interests of the all district stakeholders, Justman took the students’ characterization of the issue that there was a “budget cut” at face value and immediately took up their cause. Justman harangued the superintendent to bring her details of the budget (Hint: School Board members decide on the budget), demanded that the administration find the money somewhere, and called it “shameful, very shameful” that the students were being told that they would not be able to take a trip. Justman behaved like an aggrieved PTO parent instead of an elected school board member charged with serving the whole community’s interests.

In the wider perspective of the school district’s $70 million annual budget, this is a minuscule expense and small problem. It could have been easily fixed by good fiscal management and a few reasonable choices. Instead, the way in which it was bungled and manipulated from the School Board to the parents indicates a deeper, systemic dysfunction at work.

West Bend School District Abandons Merit Pay

I attended the two-and-a-half-hour meeting of the Committee of the Whole of the West Bend School Board last night. That’s the committee comprised of all of the board members, but they don’t vote on anything. They debate and discuss various agenda topics. Last night they covered a few topics including goings on at the Elementary Schools, economic development and growth in the district, facilities, and teacher compensation. I’ll get to the rest another time, but the teacher compensation part was instructive.

For background, several years ago the conservative majority on the school board used the power of Act 10 to create a teacher compensation plan that included the first attempt at merit pay. Under that plan, a part of a teacher’s compensation would have been determined by their student’s performance and educational outcomes. Since then, all of the conservatives on the board are gone and have been replaced by liberals. Well, some of them may be somewhat conservative in their private lives, but every current board member governs like a liberal. Their votes are indistinguishable from those that one might see in Madison or Milwaukee. Last night was an example.

The district administration has been gathering input and building a new compensation plan for the last year or so. The plan is not done yet, but the the HR Director presented an update on where they were. He plans to present a final plan at the board meeting on March 9th. Some of the details shared by the HR guy are:

  • The entire plan is focus on rewarding “longevity” and “added expertise.” In other words, it is NOT focused on student performance or educational outcomes. Teachers will get paid for managing to not get fired and for going to school themselves.
  • Under the “added expertise” category, the district is evaluating ways that teachers can get”micro-endorsements” or “micro-credentials” to increase their pay. This is a way for teachers to bolster their pay without having to get a whole new degree. The district is evaluating various groups that provide these and will only allow those that the district thinks will benefit kids. They will not measure whether or not it will actually benefit kids.
  • The plan is being intentionally built to be reviewed and revised on an annual basis. That’s a good thing, but the example cited was that they had not raised starter teacher pay in several years because it was too hard. By evaluating the plan annually, they can more easily adjust it to market conditions. That’s good, but I’m willing to bet my house that they will never adjust pay downward if the market conditions warrant it. Everything is geared to increase pay.

The West Bend School District is not going back to the antiquated “step and ladder” compensation model, but this doesn’t look like it will be much better. Teachers will still be rewarded for getting old and going to school without any connection to whether or not they are actually good teachers. Short of being fired for rank incompetence (a difficult and rare occurrence with a unionized workforce), teachers will just continue to earn more even if their performance is something between mediocre and miserable.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today. I take a look back at the kerfuffle over “budget cuts” at the West Bend School District. Here’s a taste, but go buy a copy for yourself:

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

West Bend Shool District Considering Increasing Capital Maintenance Budget 40%

Interesting

WEST BEND — The West Bend School District capital improvements budget is projected to increase about $600,000 for the coming 2020-21 year in an effort to address some referendum related issues. But this increase does not cover everything,

including aging facilities that concern some district staff.

District Facilities Director Dave Ross said now is when he plans for summer projects, but this year is a little different with some pressing facility needs.

The capital budget has increased about four percent for approximately the last 10 years, he said. But this year the administration proposed a budget of $2.1 million, instead of the four percent increase, which would be about $1.5 million. The projects are primarily at the high school, with the library project about half the total projected budget.

As the West Bend Private School Task Force illustrated, this is needed. The district’s capital maintenance budget is underfunded and needs to be increased – probably more than double what it currently is. But there are two other things that the task force found that also need to be considered:

  1. The Task Force illustrated a way to address the district’s capital needs and increase this budget without increasing spending or taxes. It is unclear whether that is the intent here. This is a $600k proposed increase in one part of a $70 million budget. That’s a less than 1% increase. I would expect the School Board to find savings elsewhere to accommodate this increase and keep overall spending and taxing neutral.
  2. I still don’t see an actual district-wide plan for their capital infrastructure. So they will increase this part of the budget and tackle a couple of needs. OK. Then what? Is the plan to increase this budget a bit more and just whittle down the list of needs over the next several years? That would be fine, but I haven’t seen that articulated. I haven’t see any strategic direction coming from the School Board since the referendum failed last year. The stakeholders of the district deserve more.

Students Lament Budget Cuts to Clubs, but There Weren’t Any

What a fascinating little story. Here’s the nub from Washington County Insider.

January 15, 2020 – West Bend, WI – During the Jan. 6, 2020 meeting of the West Bend School Board students packed the board room.  High school students and parents spoke about funds being cut for clubs like forensics and debate and the school music program was even mentioned.

When students in attendance were asked where the information about funding cuts came from, none could answer.

You can follow the link to see video of the students’ complaints and the board’s reaction.

So here’s the thing… there weren’t any cuts. None. At all. The school district budgeted the same amount for this year as they did last year. The Superintendent shared that what actually happened is that the Forensics/Debate clubs massively overspend their budget last year and just rolled into this year assuming that they could spend the same amount. They hit a wall and ran out of money and just assumed that their budget was “cut.” I posted my exchange with the superintendent at the bottom for more explanation, but here are a few thoughts about it:

  • How does a club with a $6,700 budget overspend it by $4,062? That’s a variance of 61%. Who signed off on that? What financial controls are in place? Is anyone being held accountable? I’m still hoping for answers to those questions.
  • Think about how this became an issue… students, clearly encouraged by their teachers and parents, flooded a school board meeting to complain about “budget cuts.” Where were the adults to teach these kids critical thinking? Did anyone of them actually look at the budget and expenditures before making that claim? Did anyone ask the administration or anyone else before going straight to the board? Were the adults that disinterested or too stupid to ask those questions themselves? It appears that the adults here were more interested in their kids being activists than in teaching them critical thinking, financial skills, or dispute resolution. These kids were really let down by the adults in their lives.
  • Perhaps worst of all was the reaction by school board member Nancy Justman. Without any evidence, facts, or, apparently, knowledge of the budgets that she voted for, she instantly took up the cause of the kids. She harangued the Superintendent to find the money and decried how deplorable the “budget cuts” were. She behaved more like a PTO member than an elected member of a public board responsible for the sound management of an entire school district.

There are still more details to uncover, but this story was very revealing from several angles. Here are more details from my conversation with the superintendent. This is a public record.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 2:59 PM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Hi Owen,

I am not sure if this answers your questions or not but do not hesitate to reach out if you have additional questions or need additional clarification.  

Where individual line items within our chart of accounts are monitored regularly for appropriate activity, our schools and programs are given an allocation for distribution and that allocation balance is monitored much more religiously than individual line items both by school administration and district administration.  

As both East and West high schools were well within their allocations, we were confident that the overage for forensics was able to be absorbed within the schools’ expenditures.  Further, this was not just one line item in our accounts but several; hence, there was not one large overage but rather several smaller ones which does happen on occasion.  

You are correct in that a budget is a financial plan and that plan changed slightly for this overage for forensics this past year.  This is why discussions occurred dating back to August and into the fall to be proactive as their season approached and to be financial stewards of their club allocation.  As stated in my earlier email, we’ll continue to work with our groups to make sure we maintain proper protocols for budget-to-activity monitoring.

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 10:25 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Thanks, Don. Can you walk me through the process of how a budget gets overspent? Are their financial safeguards in place? Who authorized it? I assume that someone had to authorize the expenditure. Was that at the club level or admin?

Thanks. Budgets are always an estimate, but if they were going that far over budget, I’d just like to understand how that could happen.

 

From: Don Kirkegaard [mailto:dkirkegaard@wbsd-schools.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 10:46 AM
To: Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com>
Subject: Re: Spending

Good morning Owen,

This is a complicated budgeting process.  There are district funds and district transportation and club funds.  Both East and West have separate allocations for forensics and debate is a combined activity.   I believe you are correct in that what was overspent in the past was actually consider the budget instead of the actual budget amount.  This spring we will look at the entire budget process.  In the case of forensics either the budget need to be adjusted to reflect the expenses or the expenses needs to be adjusted to reflect the budget.   For the 2019-20 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect the 2018-19 expenses.   Actual budgets were not decreased for the current year.

East and West each have a Forensics budget of $6,700 plus transportation.  Forensics are separate but debate is combined.  Last year, West had expenses that were $356 over the budget and East had expenses that were $4,062 over budget.  There may have been some expenses that were miscoded from West to East and East attended several more events than West.

We are going to make it work for the current year and have more in the future.

Thank you,

Don Kirkegaard

 

On Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 7:21 AM Owen <owen@bootsandsabers.com> wrote:

Good morning, Don.

I’ve been following with interest the kerfuffle over extracurricular club funding. The story in the paper did not have any specifics. Could you please tell me:

–        What was the budget for extracurricular clubs last year?

–        How much did they overspend?

–        Who overspent? Which club(s)?

–        What is the budget this year? Same?

I understand from the story in the Daily News that the overage was covered by a budget surplus last year. Is the whole issue here that they overspent and thought that was the new budget?

Thanks,

Owen

Time for the Jackson School District?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I continue to explore the thoughts around a potential new Jackson School District. As we discussed in an earlier thread, everything would depend on where you draw the line around the new district. I think the people in Jackson would to well to explore the issue quickly, then do it or don’t. But stop talking about it if they aren’t going to actually act. Here’s a taste:

From a pure financial lens, the good folks in the current enrollment area of Jackson Elementary would do well to break off into their own school district even though it would be a massive blow to the West Bend School District. But that is not the whole story. This is not just a financial discussion. As I stated at the beginning of this column, the only reason that really matters is if, after all of the rigmarole it would take to create a new district, the kids would get a better education.

 

Task Force Presentation Recap

As previously noted, I re-presented the findings of the West Bend School District Private Task Force to a group of interested citizens in Jackson. The Washington County Insider streamed it live and has the recording and recap. You can find that here.

I thought the meeting went well and the Q&A was robust. With an audience of mostly folks from Jackson, there were a lot of concerns about how Jackson is perceived to be treated by the rest of the district, the economic impact of Jackson Elementary, and other concerns specific to Jackson. The most interesting discussion was about whether or not Jackson should break off and form its own district. One of the audience members shared that the Village Board approached the School Board about 20 years ago to discuss this and were dismissed out of hand. That’s unfortunate, but it is an interesting question to ponder. The rationale is that Slinger has about 5,000 citizens and has its own district. Jackson has about 5,700 citizens and does not. And the citizens of Jackson are frustrated with not being able to determine their own destiny regarding public schools.

The process to break off and create a new district is not easy.  Essentially, the West Bend School Board would have to agree. If they don’t agree, then the electors can appeal and maybe can still get it done. Then they have to pass a referendum to borrow the money to build the new schools, and actually create a new district. In the case of Jackson, it may get even more complicated. Remember that the Village and Town of Jackson actually sits in three school districts – Germantown, Slinger, and West Bend. So if Jackson wants to stretch its district boundaries to include a larger tax base, they would need to get each relevant school board to agree. If you think getting one board to agree would be hard, imaging three. If Jackson just limits a new district boundary to the part that currently exists in the West Bend School District, then they are excluding a significant tax base to support the new district.

If Jackson can get through the process, then comes the reality of building a new district. Let’s just do some simple math. I don’t have easy data for how many school age kids are in Jackson and it would really depend on where they draw the line. But there are 351 kids in the K-4 Jackson Elementary. Figure that means that with an even distribution, there are about 70 Jackson kids in each grade level. That’s a total of 910 kids. So… if there are 910 kids in the new district and they spend $10,000 per kid (that’s below the state average of $11,071), then the annual spend for the new district would need to be about $9.1 million. Of that, the state taxpayers will pay a portion. How much? No idea. But as a relatively property rich district, I would venture to say that it would be less than half. To be generous, let’s say that the state taxpayers would pay half of the cost, so local property taxpayers would have to pay $4,550,000 per year to support the district. That’s just operating cost and does not include the initial construction costs.

Still with me? OK, so here is the most recent property values of the municipalities in the West Bend School District:

So let’s say that best case, both the Village and Town of Jackson create their own district. That’s an equalized value of $950,334,000 of equalized value. To generate $4,550,000 of annual tax revenue, it would take a mill rate of 4.79 – or $4.79 for every $1,000 of property value. For a $200,000 house, that would be a tax bill of $958 per year. For comparison, the West Bend School District has a mill rate of 7.97.

With these set of assumptions, it might make financial sense for Jackson to create its own district. Of course, those assumptions may change radically. For example, if it is only the Village of Jackson and does not include the Town of Jackson, then the tax base is cut in a third. And if the taxpayers only pay for 20% or 25% of the annual cost, then the balance would have to come from the local property taxpayers. Or if they decide to spend $12,000 per child or $8,500 per child, the costs would change dramatically.

In any case, if the folks in Jackson are serious about this, they will need to figure out what they want the end state to look like and then run the approval process gauntlet. It would be an interesting evaluation. And as I said in the meeting, I would hope that the beginning and ending consideration from both the folks in Jackson and those on the West Bend School Board would be what is in the best interests of the most kids.

School Task Force Presentation Tonight!

Come to Jackson. Join the discussion. 

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Forceto be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.

Task Force Presentation in Jackson Tomorrow

If you’re in the West Bend School District, come check this out!

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Force to be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.

Private Task Force to Present Findings in Jackson

From the Washington County Insider.

Jackson, WI – Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Force to be held at the Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5.

After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment.

They will present those findings beginning at 6:30 p.m. on December 5 followed by questions from the audience.

This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and facility needs.

The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Lane, Jackson.

Click HERE to review findings of West Bend School District Private Task Force.

West Bend School District Private Task Force Presentation in Jackson on December 5th

From the email. Yes, I’ll be doing some of the presentation. I look forward to a thoughtful community discussion!

Common Sense Citizens of Washington County has organized a presentation by the West Bend School District Private Task Force to be held at The Jackson Community Center on Thursday, December 5th. After the failed spring referendum a group of community leaders organized to research the School District’s needs and wants during a time of declining enrollment. They will present those findings beginning at 6:30pm on the 5th followed by questions from the audience. This will be a polite and informative evening designed to generate a conversation about the future of the District and its’ facility needs. The Jackson Community Center is located at N165 W20330 Hickory Ln. Jackson.

Lamenting Test Scores

Do you know who complains about test score? People who get mediocre test scores.

WEST BEND — In the wake of district report cards, one school board member is calling for reform to consider other student accomplishments in addition to raw numbers.

West Bend Board of Education member Nancy Justman asked a question she said she poses every year — will the Department of Public Instruction ever take into consideration information other than test scores?

“Are we ever going to get to a point where we get student achievement beyond the ACT or Aspire or whatever? This is irritating to me,” Justman said. “We have students who probably are 3.8 or 4.0 students who aren’t necessarily great test takers, so they feel bad after the test, even though they’re some of our highest graduating students doing remarkable things.”

[…]

The West Bend School District scored a 72.3 percent — meets expectations, which is .7 percent away from the next highest category. In total, 96 percent of Wisconsin schools scored meets or exceeds expectations, including the West Bend schools.

Is there anyone who thinks that test scores are the end all, be all of student evaluation? Does anyone really think that anyone else sums up the value of a person by their test scores? Of course not. We all know that there are smart kids who stink at tests and dumb kids that do well, but they are the exception.

Test scores are what they are: a standard way to measure the quality of education in similar student populations. Comparing West Bend’s scores to Milwaukee, for example, is not really useful. The student bodies are vastly different demographically. But comparing West Bend to Slinger, Fond du Lac, Beaver Dam, etc., is useful. It allows the public to get a relative gauge of the quality of education being offered at similar districts.

Instead of worrying that test scores don’t measure the whole child, which everyone knows, perhaps the district board and administration should be looking into why our district’s test scores lag comparable districts.

Enrollment Decline in West Bend School District

The West Bend School Board met last night in a committee of the whole to discuss a few things. One item on the agenda is a closer look at enrollment in the district. The data is very interesting.

Like this:

The school district has 524 fewer kids than it did in 2010. That’s a 7.7% decline. And the trend appears to be accelerating. It is not unreasonable to think that the West Bend School District will be a 5,000 student district within the next decade.

I would also note that when the West Bend School District was educating 6,803 kids in 2010, they spent about $74.1 million. Last year, with 254 fewer kids, they spent a total of $82.6 million. Fewer kids. More money. I realize that school district spending isn’t linear – there are a lot of fixed costs. But over time, all fixed costs become variable costs. If the district is educating 7.7% fewer kids (or 10% fewer, or 20% fewer), then shouldn’t the taxpayers reasonably expect a commensurate decrease in spending?

West Bend School District Projects Rapid Decline in Enrollment

The West Bend School Board met last night. One of the items they discussed was new enrollment figures and projections. One might remember that the topic of declining enrollment was a key driver in the findings of the West Bend School District Private Task Force. As it turns out, enrollment is dropping faster than even the projections we used. The Washington County Insider has video and extensive coverage.

October 29, 2019 – West Bend, WI – West Bend School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard outlined enrollment trends during the Monday night School Board meeting. The district indicated “unless there is a change in enrollment trends, the district can expect declining enrollment for the next 8-10 years.”

Superintendent Kirkegaard:

  • Our enrollment has been going south. It has been for quite a few years and it’s going to go for quite a few more years.
  • We’re down about 600 students since 2006
  • There are about 60 kids that open enroll out of Jackson. Jackson area is the largest open enrolling out of the district.
  • Projections: I made an assumption that the kindergarten class would stay the same and every kid who is in school this year stays in school throughout their whole career.
  • If you go to the high school we’re at 2184 this year. If you look at current students in the school, I added 50 kids every year once they become 9th graders, based on Holy Angels and Cabrini, typically the last few years we picked up 50 parochial kids that come to high school. You’re down to 1669 students with both east and west together.
  • This isn’t doom and gloom, it’s just reality.

II don’t know why he would use flat Kindergarten enrollment as a basis given that Kindergarten enrollment has been declining too, but even with that faulty basis, the overall district is declining.

The reality is that enrollment in the West Bend School District peaked 10 years ago with 6,902 students. This year, there are 6,279. That’s a decline of 623 students or 9%. Even the most generous projections show that the district will have just under 5,000 students ten years from now. That is a decline of almost 30% off of the most recent peak.

Again, this is not the fault of the district. While there are some numbers around the edges that have to do with School Choice or Open Enrollment, the main reason is a national demographic trend of people having fewer kids.

The enrollment trend is going to hit the district hard and fast whether the School Board acts or not. Either they can manage the decline or it will manage them. It’s past time for the citizens of the district to put some big issues on the table. The district can’t be run like it has been in the past.

 

School Task Force Presentation Tonight

Don’t forget!

The West Bend School District Private Task Force (WBSDPTF) is a group of local citizens who came together after the failed referendum to take a deep look at the district’s facilities that were the subject of the referendum. The Taskforce was not sanctioned or created by the School Board, but the School District gave the Taskforce unfettered access and reams of data. The Task Force presented its findings to the School Board on October 14th. Now the Task Force will share the findings with Common Sense Citizens of Washington County (CSCWC) and answer any questions about those findings. The meeting will take place Thursday, October 24th at The West Bend Moose Lodge beginning at 7:00PM. As always. the meeting is open to the public.

UPDATE Here is the Presentation that we will be reviewing tonight.

Task Force Findings to be Presented at Common Sense Meeting

Don’t forget.

The West Bend School District Private Task Force (WBSDPTF) is a group of local citizens who came together after the failed referendum to take a deep look at the district’s facilities that were the subject of the referendum. The Taskforce was not sanctioned or created by the School Board, but the School District gave the Taskforce unfettered access and reams of data. The Task Force presented its findings to the School Board on October 14th. Now the Task Force will share the findings with Common Sense Citizens of Washington County (CSCWC) and answer any questions about those findings. The meeting will take place Thursday, October 24th at The West Bend Moose Lodge beginning at 7:00PM. As always. the meeting is open to the public.

I am really hoping for a strong turnout of people of all different opinions. This is a great opportunity to have a robust community discussion about the future of our school district. I hope we can move past the entrenched tribal positions and into a conversation between neighbors.

Task force shows path to build more without spending more

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

Last week the West Bend School District Private Task Force (WBSDPTF) presented its facilities findings to the West Bend School Board. The Task Force is an unsanctioned group of local private citizens led by West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow who took it upon themselves to dig into the school district’s facilities after the failed referendum earlier this year. While much of the excitement is around the bold ideas around restructuring the elementary schools and updating the high school, the focus should be on the hard work that comes before the shiny new buildings.

Amongst the Task Force’s findings were three key prerequisites that must be met before putting a shovel in the ground. The district needs to create and maintain a meaningful facilities plan; the facilities must be adequately maintained; and the district must live within its means by creating efficiencies. None of these are easy, but they are necessary to provide the facilities that our kids deserve and our community can afford.

First, the district needs a plan. About a decade ago, the West Bend School Board sanctioned a community committee and spent a lot of time creating a 25-year facilities plan. At the time, the plan made some sense. Based on projections that showed continued enrollment growth for the foreseeable future, the plan laid out the updates and new construction that the district would need to support that growth.

After the plan was created, it was used as a guide for facilities spending up to and including the most recent referendum. The problem is that the plan was not sufficiently updated. Since it was created, enrollment had declined and projections are for it to decline further. Some items on the plan were completed. Other items were not. Meanwhile, the School Board continued to use the plan as a basis for making decisions. Before any more money is put into facilities, the School Board must update the facilities plan with current data and create an ongoing process to keep it updated.

Second, the district needs to fund the plan. One of the Task Force’s findings was that the capital maintenance budget is woefully underfunded. The West Bend School District has about 1.4 million square feet of buildings and has an annual capital maintenance budget of about $1.5 million. That $1.5 million budget is the highest it has been in years thanks to the School Board steadily increasing it over the past several years.

With slightly more than a dollar per square foot of funding, the district’s capital maintenance budget is underfunded by a multiple of two or three by normal standards in the private sector. This leaves facilities to decay before their time due to lack of proper maintenance. Well-constructed, properly-maintained buildings will last for generations. If we fail to properly maintain them, however, we will be forced to replace them before their time.

Third, once the district has a valid long-range facilities plan and an adequate funding to execute that plan, the School Board must do the work to execute without increasing spending or raising taxes. The Task Force found that there is sufficient money in the current budget to pay for extensive upgrades to the district’s facilities without increasing spending or raising taxes.

The Task Force’s finding that the school district could consolidate six current buildings into one would generate some of the savings necessary to keep spending flat. The savings in staffing, grass mowing, snow plowing, custodial, food service, administration, building maintenance, etc. are substantial when there is only one building instead of six. But more efficiencies can be found in the sourcing of functions that are not core competencies of a school district.

While services like food service, grounds keeping, information technology, custodial, etc. are necessary, they are not the primary purpose of a school district. There are private businesses that deliver these services better, faster, and cheaper because they are their core competencies. Each of these departments must be evaluated to see if outsourcing would provide more value to the taxpayers for less cost. In some cases, outsourcing might not make sense. Experience in the private sector shows that most of the time it will. We will never know unless the school district puts them out to bid.

The Task Force did a lot of research and study, but still only scratched the surface. Even with that scratch, however, they found that there are significant areas where the school district can save money and reallocate the spending to upgrade and maintain the district’s facilities without negatively impacting education delivery. And those savings are there without even touching the much larger spending items in the budget like staffing levels, employee benefits, and wages. Much more could be done with a bit more scratching.

Make a plan. Take care of what we own. Live within our means. These are guiding principles that citizens should expect from our government. They are principles that must be followed as the West Bend School Board considers the future of the district’s facilities.

NOTE: I am a member of the WBSDPTF. While the findings are those of the Task Force, the opinions in this column are solely mine.

Task force shows path to build more without spending more

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s the main point:

Amongst the Task Force’s findings were three key prerequisites that must be met before putting a shovel in the ground. The district needs to create and maintain a meaningful facilities plan; the facilities must be adequately maintained; and the district must live within its means by creating efficiencies. None of these are easy, but they are necessary to provide the facilities that our kids deserve and our community can afford.

[…]

Make a plan. Take care of what we own. Live within our means. These are guiding principles that citizens should expect from our government. They are principles that must be followed as the West Bend School Board considers the future of the district’s facilities.

Pick up a copy to read the whole thing.

Also, as a reminder, the Task Force’s full findings will be presented again at the Moose Lodge in West Bend at 1900 on October 24th courtesy of the Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. All are welcome to attend, listen, and ask questions.

CSCWC Meeting on Thursday to Hear WBSDPTF Findings

From the email… we’re not the best at acronyms in West Bend, but be sure to attend this!

The West Bend School District Private Task Force (WBSDPTF) is a group of local citizens who came together after the failed referendum to take a deep look at the district’s facilities that were the subject of the referendum. The Taskforce was not sanctioned or created by the School Board, but the School District gave the Taskforce unfettered access and reams of data. The Task Force presented its findings to the School Board on October 14th. Now the Task Force will share the findings with Common Sense Citizens of Washington County (CSCWC) and answer any questions about those findings. The meeting will take place Thursday, October 24th at The West Bend Moose Lodge beginning at 7:00PM. As always. the meeting is open to the public.

This will be the first opportunity for the public to hear the findings outside of the presentation at the school board meeting. Task Force members will also answer questions. I hope that people who like the findings, hate the findings, or just want to hear them in some detail will be able to attend. Yes, I will also be presenting and fielding questions, so if any of you lefties want to come and have some fun at my expense, feel free.

Leading the West Bend way

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

In the wake of the failed referendum for the West Bend School District, the mayor of West Bend, Kraig Sadownikow, organized a private task force of local leaders to evaluate the maintenance and capital projects at the district’s high school and Jackson elementary facilities and share independent findings.

The task force was generously provided funding by Kevin Steiner of West Bend Mutual Insurance and Tim Schmidt of Delta Defense to retain Zimmerman Architectural Studios to provide technical facilities expertise.

The task force presented its findings to the West Bend School Board Monday night. Those findings show a different way forward for the West Bend School District and a model for other school districts to follow.

I am a member of the task force. While the findings are those of the task force, the opinions expressed in this column are my own. I will admit that I was dubious about participating in such an endeavor. The process was enlightening and enriching. I encourage the reader to go read the complete findings in the minutes of Monday night’s meeting available on the school district’s website and elsewhere.

To summarize the task force’s findings, the West Bend School District could accomplish everything it wanted to do in the referendum and much, much more without spending a dollar more than they already are. To do that, however, it will take some smart decisions and hard work. The district has some real facilities needs. While spending money is necessary to meet those needs, spending more money is not.

First, there are some realities facing the district. Enrollment is declining and is projected to continue declining for the next decade or more. The most recent enrollment tally taken last month shows that enrollment is declining even faster than the projections made last year. This isn’t a problem with the district. It is a demographic trend that is happening throughout the state. Proactive management in an age of declining enrollment and revenues is even more crucial than in an age of plenty.

Second, the district has done a poor job of in terms of general maintenance and capital facilities management. This is a systemic problem that stretches back many years. For example, the current capital maintenance budget of about $1.5 million is woefully inadequate for a district with about 1.5 million square feet of buildings. In the elementary schools alone, there is about $22.5 million of capital expenses looming over the next decade that are mostly unfunded. Whether intentional or not, the district has been managing facilities by letting them decay prematurely due to inadequate maintenance, and then passing referendums to replace them.

Also, the school district built a 25-year capital plan several years ago. The plan was built on projections of increasing enrollment for decades to come. The reality is that enrollment is declining and will continue to decline, but the 25-year plan was never updated to reflect the new realities. A long-range capital facilities plan that is continually refreshed with current data and scrutinized in public is critical.

Before embarking on an ambitious plan to build and renovate buildings, the School Board must rectify these budgetary and planning deficiencies to demonstrate that the West Bend School District will break the cycle of neglect and replace. The district cannot make new investments in facilities before solving the problem of maintaining what they have.

The failed referendum sought to make some significant renovations to the high school and replace Jackson Elementary. For the high school, the task force validated that there are some true needs that require work.

There are also a couple of areas where the building could be upgraded to drive a lot of value for a reasonable cost.

The failed referendum also sought to replace Jackson Elementary. This is where the task force’s findings took a turn that I did not expect. The Jackson Elementary building has significant problems, but just replacing it was always folly. It is an expensive endeavor that pours a fortune into one problem while leaving all of the other problems wanting.

The task force found that the district could build a state-of-the-art new elementary school campus on the south side of West Bend. Into the new building, the district could consolidate Jackson Elementary, Decorah Elementary, Fair Park Elementary, the district offices, the maintenance shed, and Rolfs Education Center into the single building. By combining six district buildings into a single campus, the district could provide a 21st-century learning environment to far more kids while saving millions of dollars per year in operational costs.

The best part is that by taking advantage of the operational efficiencies of a streamlined district infrastructure and making a few other easily identified operational efficiencies, the task force found that the district could do upgrade at the high school, modernize the entire elementary school footprint, and increase the ongoing maintenance budget to adequate levels without spending or taxing a dollar more than they already are.

More work is needed and much more public discussion must take place, but there is a legitimate path to make significant upgrades to the West Bend School District’s facilities, break the cycle of neglect and replace, and do so without increasing spending or taxes.

The West Bend School District can lead the way. Other school districts in Wisconsin should follow.