Tag Archives: West Bend School District

New West Bend School District Superintendent Comments on Referendum, Reopening, Etc.

West Bend’s new school Superintendent is taking the helm. She has an interview in the Washington Daily News this morning and some really positive comments. Like this:

“We understand every family’s situation is unique and different, which may create risks, so now we’re planning for reopening for full face-to-face but having a full virtual option for families who would want that, and we’re examining what hybrid services would look like,” Wimmer said.

As I said in my column, this is the approach I fully support. And this:

As part of her transition working with Kirkegaard, Wimmer has considered the facilities challenges at length. She said she’s seen every inch of the facilities and knows the work that lies ahead.

“We have infrastructure needs and I do not see immediate relief in a referendum because we need to understand what the economy looks like and what our needs are,” she said. “They didn’t go away, but given everything else going on, it’s not the right time either.”

Agreed.

The new Super is off to a good start.

West Bend School District Responds to Demands

This is what your tax dollars are being spent on when they cry “poor.” They are working hard to build more self-righteous, ignorant, social justice warriors like the ones making demands.

Laura Jackson, WBSD assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, confirmed that members of the executive leadership team have received a copy of these demands.

“There have been a number of activities taking place in the West Bend School District in the past year and more are scheduled or planned for the rest of 2020, and in 2021 and 2022, to inform and train staff on issues of racial injustice and social justice,” she said.

The district highlighted several activities from recent years to address racial injustice: In 2019 and 2020, the district had small groups of staff work together to examine equity and how it is achieved; staff members participated in Intercultural Development Inventory in 2019 with more inventories scheduled for 2020; WBSD literary specialists and instructional coaches attended training with a nationally-known educator on creating more equitable school spaces last year; instructional coaches also participated in training,

provided through the Department of Public Instruction, which focused on educational equity in mathematics and literacy; in August, the entire WBSD leadership team is scheduled to begin training on developing a greater understanding of racial issues.

More than 100 staff members will attend several days of training; WBSD has developed an internal list of more than 40 resources for staff to read and view. DPI also released a detailed list of resources available to staff; during regular review cycles, the district may address these topics; WBSD is a member of the Closing the Achievement Gap (CAGC) of South Eastern Wisconsin, which includes 36 school districts. One of its goals is to hire more minority teachers and administrators; and there are multicultural clubs in three schools. WBSD said they support any additional clubs being formed and assist in the process.

“As our students and staff return to our schools in September, we recognize that as a school district, we must intentionally prepare to support their social and emotional needs around the continued pandemic and the events around racial injustice,” said Jackson. “We are ready to work with staff on identifying and supporting social and emotional needs, and to also support students as they process events that are dominating the news this summer.”

Woke West Bend Graduates Push for Social Justice Agenda in District

This is apparently the educational outcome of the West Bend School District.

1. Make a statement regarding WBSD’s stance on current events regarding police brutality, systemic racism, and social justice.

2. Enhance and increase funding for counseling, youth programming, rehabilitative programs to replace outdated disciplinary action. Counselors or workers in these positions need to be required to complete anti-racism training.

3. Remove police liaisons from schools.

4. Establish new department or committee within Pupil Services devoted to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equitable Education.

5. Require anti-racism training and professional development for faculty: administrators, educators, aides, etc.
a. This should come from professional educators of color, with emphasis on Black educators.

6. Have a DAI representative at School Board Meetings as an accountability measure and to ensure decisions made are genuinely for the benefit and working towards “Excellence for All.”

7. Restructure social studies curriculums and mandate lessons on privilege, oppression, and systemic racism. Decolonize education by establishing ethnic studies requirements and incorporating Black
History into curriculums.

8. Establish a committee and funding for hiring and retaining Black educators.
a. Black counselors are also necessary in schools.

9. Inviting external Black educators to advise WBSD faculty in a professional development or mandatory training capacity.

10. Set community guidelines on what qualifies as hate speech and educate students on why it is considered hate speech.

West Bend School District Slams Through New Superintendent

They announced finalists on Tuesday and the selection was made on Thursday. So much for public input, getting to know the community, listening sessions, or any of the other things that usually happen. It looks like the disregard for the public isn’t just coming from Madison.

WEST BEND — The West Bend Joint School District #1 School Board has announced that a contract for superintendent of the district has been offered to Jennifer Wimmer.

According to a press release from the district, the board chose Wimmer due to her broad and established instructional leadership experience, in-depth expertise in instructional strategies, strength in collaboration and focus on increasing student learning. Once a contract has been approved, her start date will be July 1.

[…]

Wimmer has been the superintendent of the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District in Fox Point for six years. She has also worked in the School District of Waukesha in various roles including assistant superintendent of student services, director of instruction, and executive director of elementary education. She has also been an elem entary school principal and a middle school associate principal. She began her career as a special education teacher. Wimmer earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and a superintendent licensure from Cardinal Stritch University and will receive her doctorate in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University this year.

Never heard of the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District before? That’s because it’s a tiny K-8 district with two buildings and about 400 total students. It’s about 6% the size of the West Bend School District.

Other than that, we don’t know much about Wimmer. We don’t have any impression of her personality, goals, communication skills, priorities, financial acumen, or anything else. The public has not been given any information other than a skeletal resume and a press release. She has been given no opportunity to connect with the community or vice versa. I hope she’s successful, but she is entering the district being set up to fail.

One thing we do know is that the Wimmer shepherded the passage of an operational and capital referendum in her district last year. She’s not sticking around to deal with the community when they get their tax increases this year. But perhaps the board liked the fact that she was able to convince the taxpayers to raise their own taxes.

West Bend School Board Selects Superintendent Finalists

Meh.

Dominick Madison — Madison is currently the superintendent of Brillion Public Schools in Brillion, Wis. where he has served for 15 years.

[…]

Jennifer Wimmer – Wimmer has been the superintendent of the Maple Dale-Indian Hill School District in Fox Point for six years.

The West Bend School District has about 6,500 students trending down to 5,000 in a few years. Brillion has a school district of about 880 kids – less than the size of one of West Bend’s High Schools. Maple Dale-Indian Hill is a district without 420 kids – roughly the size of a single elementary school in West Bend.

It appears that the West Bend is no longer to attract super supers. This is a pretty mediocre candidate list for what has become a pretty mediocre school district. Leadership matters. Let’s hope I’m wrong and one of these folks is an unfinished diamond.

West Bend School Board Member Misrepresents Task Force Findings

In a letter to the editor today in the Washington County Daily News, West Bend School Board Member Paul Fischer said a couple of things that need some discussion. First, he said this:

Regarding our ongoing facilities discussions, various letters to the editor claim the School Board has turned a deaf ear toward the private task force’s recommendations. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. The School Board agrees with many of their observations and continues to evaluate their suggestions.

Some of you might remember that I was a member of the Private Task Force that spent months evaluating the district’s elementary and high school facilities. I can’t get into the minds of the board members. What I can tell you is that they seemed receptive when we presented the findings to them at a board meeting. I presented the findings for a few groups after we presented to the board and several board members attended those presentations of their own accord. The Task Force offered to come back in committee format to do deeper dives on specific findings and provide all of the backend discovery and data. To my knowledge, the board has not taken up any task force members on that offer. So while the board members may be considering the Task Force’s findings in their deliberations, they have not dug any deeper into the details of those findings. Perhaps that is why Mr. Fischer made this incorrect statement:

Claims have also been made that the task force recommendations included guidance that our facilities issues can be addressed without raising taxes. To be clear, the report NEVER made that statement.

This is not true. The written task force presentation laid out a financial model for how to accomplish the facilities goals without increasing spending or taxes. Furthermore, it was verbally communicated during the school board presentation. It was also verbally presented several times at other presentations that board members attended. I happen to know that because I was the one presenting. Finally, I actually wrote it in the column I did at the time about the findings. I wrote:

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.

I said virtually the same thing in a second column:

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.

As a member of the Task Force who participated in the discovery, discussion, and development of the presentations; and as someone who actually presented the findings multiple times; I can say with absolute certainty that the Task Force did find that the West Bend School District could address its facilities needs without raising taxes or spending. Perhaps Fischer wants to dance around how the written report is phrased, but this finding was presented to the Board and communicated multiple times in multiple formats. Again, perhaps if the School Board had taken up the opportunity to dig deeper into the discovery documentation, this fact would have been more clear. But then again, I thought it was already clear. Clearly it is just something that they don’t want to confront.

The complaints from some in the community that the West Bend School Board ignored the Task Force’s findings are well founded. While the board members might be taking the findings into consideration in their heads, they have given no outward indication that that’s the case.

Corono-Schools: Pandemic Response Varies by School District

It has been an interesting view into the preparedness, priorities, and competencies of various school districts in Wisconsin. Senator Duey Stroebel highlighted some:

As COVID-19 closes schools across Wisconsin, I wanted to highlight school districts in the 20th Senate District that are continuing to educate students using the valuable taxpayer resources that we have entrusted to them.  The 20th Senate District includes most of Ozaukee and Washington Counties as well as portions of Calumet, Fond du Lac, and Sheboygan Counties.

The Hartford J1, Holy Hill Area, Northern Ozaukee, Port Washington-Saukville, Plymouth, Random Lake, and Slinger School Districts have already started a virtual learning program for their students in reaction to the current environment.

I applaud their preparation to ensure our students have the resources they need to succeed.  I look forward to other districts joining their ranks to minimize the interruption to our children’s education.

I give a lot of credit, and cut a lot of slack, to school districts for how they are responding. There are a lot of hurdles. For example:

  • Districts can’t assume that all kids have access to a computer and decent internet access.
  • Delivering education via distance learning is vastly different than in person. The curriculum and planning were mostly built for in-person delivery and it is a monumental task to restructure them for distance learning. A few schools are doing this well. Some are just trying to do it the same way, which won’t be effective. Some are not doing anything at all.
  • For the lower grades, distance learning gets much more difficult. It relies heavily on individual support and instruction, which falls on parents – parents who have jobs.
  • If you don’t already have a technology infrastructure that is built for distance learning, you can’t build one overnight. This is easier than it once was with the availability of auto-scaling and elastic load balancing cloud platforms, but it still isn’t immediate.

There are a lot of hurdles. Some districts are jumping over them better than others.

Since they are my local school district, I have been following the West Bend School District and I have been… disappointed. Again, I cut them a lot of slack, but if we are to measure them against neighboring districts, they are coming up short. You will notice that they are noticeably absent from Stroebel’s press release.

While other districts are already up and running online, the West Bend School District is targeting sometime in the middle of next week to start – and it looks like that will involve mostly emailing worksheets:

We now anticipate distance learning beginning mid-next-week. Continue to check your email daily for updates on which day next week this programming will begin.

1. Our district provides a Chromebook to all students in grade 5-9 for use during the school year. Additionally, students in grades 10-12 have always had access to a Chromebook if they needed one. While our elementary age students have numerous electronic devices at their disposal in class, our practice has not been to send those devices home with students. We are currently evaluating the resources and feasibility of handing out devices to elementary students.

2. The distance learning for all grade levels will be provided electronically via email. If a printed copy of the materials are needed, please contact your building principal.

a. Students in grades K-4 will need to print out learning activities. Teachers will be able to support students remotely during this time.

Meanwhile, schools like Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School is already doing full distance learning with a full class schedule via Zoom. That’s probably the best I’ve seen. Slinger and Hartford are already doing distance learning, but it looks like they have not really shifted to a true distance learning methodology.

What the West Bend School Board is making sure is taken care of is paying staff. I expect that this is of particular importance with three board members up for reelection in a few weeks.

WEST BEND — With one board member quarantined after travel, the West Bend School District Board of Education met to discuss how teachers and other staff will be paid during the school closure, all while staying six feet apart from one another.

Board members met on Wednesday, March 18, to discuss employee compensation while schools are closed. They unanimously voted to pay employees their normal salary up to spring break on Monday, April 6.

If the school closure due to COVID-19 is to be extended, the board would reconvene and take

further action if the closure extends after Monday, April 13.

“We have had several employees wanting to know or are very concerned about whether they’re going to be paid during this shutdown or not,” said Superintendent Don Kirkegaard.

[…]

“Nobody spends money just to spend money. In this case, we’re spending money to take care of the people who dedicated in many times 10, 15, 20, 30 years of their life to us and we want to treat them the way we’d want to be treated as well,” said Kirkegaard.

Frankly, I’m a little torn on this. We want to ensure that the district is able to retain critical employees after this is over and that we are caring for our community. At the same time, taxpayers are also suffering and it is not unreasonable to expect our public employees to share the pain too. If they aren’t working, we shouldn’t be paying them. And we shouldn’t just make up work for them to have an excuse to pay them. I don’t see any reason to pay coaches, custodial, administrators, and good chunk of the classroom teachers and aides if they aren’t working full time. Yeah, it sucks, but it also sucks for the retail, restaurant, and other workers in town who are idle right now and have to pay that tax bill.

With the way budgeting works, the school district already has the money from the annual property tax, so there wouldn’t be an immediate tax savings. But they could save or reallocate the savings to reduce taxes in the next budget when the taxpayers will still be reeling from the economic impact of this. Or they could reallocate the money to purchase the technology and training needed to do distance learning correctly. It appears that the priority of the West Bend School Board, however, is to keep the district staff whole irrespective of what’s happening to the taxpayers.

We will have to watch the long term effects of this transition. Will distance learning stick for schools? It’s not right for everything, but if 20% of a district moves to distance learning, then we can redirect much of the spending on facilities to classroom instruction. And what does this do for appropriate teacher/student ratios? If kids are learning from home, will the taxpayers still need to provide free meals to them? If so, then can we admit that that is just normal welfare and not use our government school system as an alternate welfare delivery agency?

When all of this is over, we will all have to evaluate how our government institutions responded and render judgment. Some will deserve praise. Some will need a wholesale reform.

Cast your vote based on the record

Speaking of voting, here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Three incumbent West Bend School Board members are up for re-election on the April 7 ballot. Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt ran as a bloc in 2017 and are running for re-election as a bloc again. In 2017, they ran on conservatism and transparency. Having failed on both counts, this year they are running on their record. It is certainly a record that deserves scrutiny.

Despite promising transparency, the West Bend School District became instantly more opaque when they took office. Individually, these three board members repeatedly refused to respond to questions from media and constituents who did not support them; documents disappeared from the district’s website; and there was a noticeable increase in the number of closed sessions.

This secrecy enveloped the decision in 2017 to split the high school administrations. West Bend has two high schools in one building, but previous boards had combined the administration to be more efficient and economical. Without any public input or discussion, and in the middle of a hiring process for a single principal, the School Board split the position into two expensive principals instead of one. Secrecy and patronage were the new guiding principles with these three.

Under the leadership of the Triad, the district abandoned using Act 10 and reversed course on the implementation of merit pay for school staff. After a year in limbo, the district is implementing a new compensation system that rewards teachers for experience and more education — irrespective of the teacher’s performance.

Who could forget the superintendent shuffle? The district will be hiring its fourth superintendent since the Triad took office three years ago. They forced one out (allegedly), had an interim for a while, and then hired Superintendent Kirkegaard. While Kirkegaard has been a capable superintendent, it did not take much foresight to understand that an administrator nearing the end of his career who spent his entire life in another state would not last long. Along with the superintendent shuffle came the huge turnover of the rest of the administrative staff. The district has cycled through six business managers, five HR directors, and countless other staff positions.

The Triad also ran last time as conservatives. They may be fiscally conservative in their private lives, but they are big-spending liberals with other people’s money. Despite steeply declining enrollment (not the district’s fault), the School Board increased spending by over $5 million, or over 6%, since 2016. That spending brought with it property tax increases. The School Board increased the property tax levy by over 9% over the same period. The spending and taxing decisions of the West Bend School Board are indistinguishable from those of legendarily liberal school boards like Madison or Milwaukee.

The increased spending and taxes were not enough for this crew. Throughout the Triad’s entire tenure, the district has been roiled with referendum debate. After a few months, the Triad pushed through a $74 million (with interest) referendum for a new Jackson Elementary School and work at the high schools. They followed the liberal school referendum playbook to the letter. They manipulated a fake community study committee, conducted a sham survey, rolled out the scare tactics, and were hazy about the details of how the money would be spent.

After the voters rejected the referendum, they are right back at planning the next referendum. Despite the fact that a private task force of local business and facilities leaders (of which I was a member) dug into the data for months and showed a way to restructure facilities with enormous improvements without increasing taxes, the Triad appears determined to ignore those findings and proceed with a rehashed version of the previous referendum – a new Jackson Elementary School and maybe some other fluff thrown in to lure voters from outside of Jackson.

Sadly for the kids of the West Bend School District, the spending, taxing, administrative turmoil, lack of performance incentives for teachers, secrecy, and poor management have only perpetuated a steadily declining performance. None of this has improved educational outcomes or better prepared our kids to enter the world.

If you want higher taxes, more spending, declining performance, and an endless succession of referendums, vote for the Triad. As for me, I will only be voting for one person for the West Bend School Board, Jody Geenen.

Geenen is a solidly conservative mother who had three children go through the West Bend School District. She is committed to doing the hard work of improving transparency, communicating with the public, evaluating the curriculum, being a frugal steward of taxpayer money, and providing a “high-quality, content-rich, truth-and-factbased education for all students.”

There are four candidates for three School Board seats, so two of the three members of the Triad will be re-elected. It does not matter which ones. But it does matter that the voters elect Jody Geenen to be the only conservative on a school board that lurched to the left with the election of the Triad.

Cast your vote based on the record

Isn’t it nice to read about something that isn’t related to Coronovirus? My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a little taste:

Sadly for the kids of the West Bend School District, the spending, taxing, administrative turmoil, lack of performance incentives for teachers, secrecy, and poor management have only perpetuated a steadily declining performance. None of this has improved educational outcomes or better prepared our kids to enter the world.

If you want higher taxes, more spending, declining performance, and an endless succession of referendums, vote for the Triad. As for me, I will only be voting for one person for the West Bend School Board, Jody Geenen.

Geenen is a solidly conservative mother who had three children go through the West Bend School District. She is committed to doing the hard work of improving transparency, communicating with the public, evaluating the curriculum, being a frugal steward of taxpayer money, and providing a “high-quality, content-rich, truth-and-fact based education for all students.”

There are four candidates for three School Board seats, so two of the three members of the Triad will be re-elected. It does not matter which ones. But it does matter that the voters elect Jody Geenen to be the only conservative on a school board that lurched to the left with the election of the Triad.

West Bend School District Plans to Reduce Staff

This is a responsible response in light of the decline in enrollment.

The current projected reductions are based on enrollment projections for next year and course registration trends for the current year. Adjustments will be made if course registrations shift in a substantial manner from their current levels. Based on current data, the following reductions are recommended:

● Elementary – Reduce 6 classroom teaching positions
● Silverbrook – Reduce 1 classroom teaching position
● High School – Reduce 6 classroom teaching positions

The administration first uses attrition to achieve these reductions. Teachers who retire, resign, or are on a non-renewing 1 year contract are the first level of staff used for accomplishing reductions. The administration is already aware of seven positions that can be reduced through this type of normal attrition. Employees have until March 13th to declare their intent to retire so additional attrition this year is very possible.

Let’s hope that enough people retire or quit so that nobody needs to be let go.

West Bend School Superintendent Appointed to Job in South Dakota

As expected. From the Washington County Insider.

February 11, 2020 – West Bend, WI – Outgoing West Bend School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard on Monday night secured an interim superintendent’s position in the Meade School District in his home state of South Dakota.

[…]

Kirkegaard is to take over in the Meade School District on July 1, 2020.  Kirkegaard’s last day in West Bend School District will be June 30, 2020.

Kirkegaard was paid $175,000 in the West Bend School District. The district also covered his moving expenses up to $15,000.

Meade School Board is not going to pay moving expenses for Kirkegaard to return home.

According to board officials it has not been determined whether Kirkegaard would be considered for a full-time position as Superintendent in the Meade School District. According to state law in South Dakota, an interim position can only run for one year.

[…]

It was February 3, 2020 when WashingtonCountyInsider.com broke the story about West Bend School Superintendent Don Kirkegaard looking to return to his former school district and expressing interest in the interim superintendent position in the Meade School District.

“I’m not ready to be done done yet …. the departure truly is a personal decision,” he said.

West Bend School District needs a new superintendent

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

West Bend School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard has resigned after less than two years in the job and plans to return to his newly built house in South Dakota. Although he has not shared any career plans, one might posit that the vacancy for superintendent in his old school district may have factored into his decision. The folks in the West Bend School District thank him for his short time in our community and wish him the best. The School Board now must look for the district’s fifth superintendent in four years.

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The search for a new superintendent comes during a time of turmoil in the school district. After Superintendent Ted Nietzke resigned in 2016, the School Board hired a strong replacement, Erik Olsen. 2016 is also when the School Board began its turn to the left when Tiffany Larson was elected. 2017 completed the turn with the election of Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt. With a solid majority, Superintendent Olson was quickly paid a handsome severance to leave. Interim Superintendent Laura Jackson served well until Kirkegaard was hired by the board in 2018 after an expensive search.

Through these years, the school district has burned through four or five HR directors and business managers, ended innovation like the charter school, abandoned merit pay for teachers, stunted community and stakeholder communication, roiled the electorate with a poorly thought-out referendum that failed, and generally regressed from the gains made a few years ago. The results have been distressing as student performance has been stagnant and much of the community is disengaged and disinterested.

Meanwhile, the school district is facing some serious challenges. Due to a general demographic shift, enrollment is declining in the district and is projected to continue to decline for the foreseeable future. A district that once had 7,000 students will likely have less than 5,000 within this decade. This will mean substantially less money and the need to downsize personnel and facilities. The district is also facing competitive pressure with the expansion of school choice and the maturity of online and home-school learning options. These are structural pressures that are not unique to the West Bend School District. They are systemic and unavoidable.

Taking all of this into account, the next superintendent of the West Bend School District needs to be a strong, transformational, visionary change agent. It is exponentially more difficult to properly manage an organization through a contraction than through an expansion. The leader must be a phenomenal communicator who can motivate employees and build support with all of the stakeholders in the district. The West Bend School District does not need a caretaker or a toady. The district needs a strong leader to guide it through a transformation to improve educational outcomes, infuse modern innovations, and reconnect with the community while also consolidating and economizing personnel and facilities. The folks in the West Bend School District deserve a better, if smaller, school district that reflects the values of the community it serves.

To find a superintendent that matches all of those criteria will not be easy, especially given the recent turnover in the position. To do so, the West Bend School Board should follow the lead of the University of Wisconsin System and consider candidates who do not come from the government-education industrial complex. A school district superintendent must have a vision for education, but must also have skills in budgeting, contract negotiation, public relations, personnel management, finance, facilities management, organizational behavior, recruitment, marketing, legal, and more. These are skills that most seasoned, successful business executives have acquired and are not unique to people who have spent their career in education.

Finally, we must remember that this process will be conducted in the midst of an election where three incumbent school board members are on the ballot who have overseen the dysfunction of the district for the previous three years. As a sign of the disengagement of the community from the district, only one challenger stepped up, but she is a true conservative who is eager to set the district back on a path to success. Jody Geenen had three kids graduate from the district and has been an active, involved, conservative member of the community.

Electing Jody Geenen to the School Board will not only put a vocal taxpayer steward on the board, it will signal to the superintendent candidates that the citizens of the West Bend School District are ready to accept progress and change. Furthermore, Geenen would be in a position to invite the public into the process of choosing a new superintendent with a transparency that has been so sorely lacking from the West Bend School Board.

The West Bend School District needs strong leadership that can lead it through the next decade. The voters can begin by electing Jody Geenen to the School Board. Then the School Board will need to recruit and select a transformational leader as the next superintendent.

West Bend Superintendent Heading Back to South Dakota

It’s almost like I was prescient when I wrote my column this weekend. Good reporting from the Washington County Insider:

February 4, 2020 – West Bend, WI – Just a day after WashingtonCountyInsider.com broke the story about West Bend School Superintendent Don Kirkegaard looking to return to his former school district and expressing interest in the interim superintendent position in the Meade School District the story got picked up by Rapid City Journal in South Dakota.

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Reporter Jim Holland writes:

STURGIS | Former Meade 46-1 superintendent of schools Don Kirkegaard has offered his services as an interim superintendent of the district, following the release of current superintendent Jeff Simmons in January.

Kirkegaard also confirmed he had contacted the Meade 46-1 Board of Education about the superintendent’s opening, but only in an interim capacity. “If you decide you’re going to do an interim (superintendent). I would be interested in being considered,” Kirkegaard said.

“If you’re going to do a full-fledged search, I will do everything I can to help you get the right candidate, but I’m not going to re-apply for the position,” he said.

Dennis Chowen, president of the Meade 46-1 Board of Education, confirmed Tuesday that Kirkegaard had contacted the board the day after a Jan. 13 meeting in which the board and Simmons announced a mutual agreement of his release from the remainder of his three-year contract.

West Bend School District needs a new superintendent

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy! Here’s a part to whet your appetite.

The search for a new superintendent comes during a time of turmoil in the school district. After Superintendent Ted Nietzke resigned in 2016, the School Board hired a strong replacement, Erik Olsen. 2016 is also when the School Board began its turn to the left when Tiffany Larson was elected. 2017 completed the turn with the election of Joel Ongert, Nancy Justman, and Tonnie Schmidt. With a solid majority, Superintendent Olson was quickly paid a handsome severance to leave. Interim Superintendent Laura Jackson served well until Kirkegaard was hired by the board in 2018 after an expensive search.

Through these years, the school district has burned through four or five HR directors and business managers, ended innovation like the charter school, abandoned merit pay for teachers, stunted community and stakeholder communication, roiled the electorate with a poorly thought-out referendum that failed, and generally regressed from the gains made a few years ago. The results have been distressing as student performance has been stagnant and much of the community is disengaged and disinterested.

Meanwhile, the school district is facing some serious challenges. Due to a general demographic shift, enrollment is declining in the district and is projected to continue to decline for the foreseeable future. A district that once had 7,000 students will likely have less than 5,000 within this decade. This will mean substantially less money and the need to downsize personnel and facilities. The district is also facing competitive pressure with the expansion of school choice and the maturity of online and home-school learning options. These are structural pressures that are not unique to the West Bend School District. They are systemic and unavoidable.

Taking all of this into account, the next superintendent of the West Bend School District needs to be a strong, transformational, visionary change agent. It is exponentially more difficult to properly manage an organization through a contraction than through an expansion. The leader must be a phenomenal communicator who can motivate employees and build support with all of the stakeholders in the district. The West Bend School District does not need a caretaker or a toady. The district needs a strong leader to guide it through a transformation to improve educational outcomes, infuse modern innovations, and reconnect with the community while also consolidating and economizing personnel and facilities. The folks in the West Bend School District deserve a better, if smaller, school district that reflects the values of the community it serves.

To find a superintendent that matches all of those criteria will not be easy, especially given the recent turnover in the position. To do so, the West Bend School Board should follow the lead of the University of Wisconsin System and consider candidates who do not come from the government education- industrial complex. A school district superintendent must have a vision for education, but must also have skills in budgeting, contract negotiation, public relations, personnel management, finance, facilities management, organizational behavior, recruitment, marketing, legal, and more. These are skills that most seasoned, successful business executives have acquired and are not unique to people who have spent their career in education.

West Bend’s School Superintendent Resigns

Sigh… here we go again. What is this? Four superintendents in the last five years?

WEST BEND — West Bend School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard is leaving his position at the end of the school year and returning to his home state of South Dakota. He joined the district in July 2018 after 23 years of experience in education, including serving as secretary of education for South Dakota.

Kirkegaard said while he enjoys his current position, moving back home is the best decision for himself and his wife.

“This is just a chance to be back in the home we built brand new a few years ago and to be by family and friends,” he said. There is much to be missed, he said, and he will keep with him the memories and lessons.

Frankly, I can’t blame him. Working for this school board would be torture. On the other hand, it sure seems like he never had both feet in Wisconsin. He didn’t sell his house in South Dakota? He didn’t know when he took the job 18 months ago that he’d be 850 miles from the rest of his family? My sense is that he was brought in to shepherd the passage of the referendum and building program. When that was rejected, it was time to leave.

CORRECTION: This will actually be the 5th superintendent in four years.

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