Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week.
The West Bend School Board is about to jack up taxes again to fuel their ever-increasing spending. This is despite rapidly declining enrollment. The good news, for them, is that the electors of West Bend just doubled their pay. It is very easy and rewarding to spend other people’s money.
At the annual meting of the West Bend School District’s electors, the school board put forth a resolution for consideration to increase the property tax levy by 7.25% to $47.8 million. The electors, who are just citizens of the district who decided to show up to the meeting, voted to approve the increase. It is not binding, but since it was the school board who drafted the resolution, they will likely approve the tax increase later this month.
This has become routine for the West Bend School Board. Irrespective of the state of the economy, the amount of federal stimulus money they received, or the number of kids they are educating, the West Bend School Board increases taxes. They are the proverbial scorpion crossing the river. It is just what they do.
The 7.25% tax increase this year is on top of the 6.21% tax increase last year and the 7.15% tax increase the year before. Thanks to the power of compounding, that is a 22% tax increase in just three years.
They have to increase taxes to support the increase in spending. This year’s budget increases overall spending by 7.12%. The district will break the $100 million budget threshold with a whopping $103.4 million. The West Bend School Board is continuing to increase spending despite the fact that enrollment in the district is collapsing.
According to enrollment figures provided by the school district, there are 5,824 full time equivalent (FTE) students in the district this year. That is a decline of 560 students, or 8.8% in just three years and over a thousand in five years. In the same three years where the West Bend School Board increased taxes 22% (assuming they pass this year’s proposed tax increase), student enrollment has declined by 8.8%.
The decline in enrollment has long been forecasted. There is a general decline in the school age population due to demographic trends. The decline has accelerated in some government school districts during the pandemic. Parents who were frustrated with unnecessary school closures and the damaging impact of onerous pandemic response theater moved their kids to private or home schools. But even without the pandemic, the West Bend School Board has known that the district’s enrollment was in for a decade-long decline in enrollment.
What has the West Bend School Board done to prepare for the decline in enrollment? Have they lowered expenses in line with lower enrollment? Not at all. Did they scale back staffing? No. Staffing is down about 4% since 2017 despite enrollment being down 26% over the same period. The school board has also voted to give the entire bloated staff substantial pay increases.
Have they closed any school buildings that are well below capacity? No. The district has the same number of schools as they have for years. Have they closed the district office and moved into one of the schools to save money? Nope. Have they outsourced non-educational functions to save cost? No. The school board has just kept spending because nobody is standing up and telling them to do anything different.
In fact, the electors rewarded the school board members’ spendthrift ways by doubling their pay. A large contingent of district employees and other local liberals showed up in force at the annual meeting to ensure that the tax increase would pass and to double the pay of the school board members. The school board did not propose a pay increase for themselves, but the electors in the room made sure that they got some more tax money in their pockets too.
People get the government they deserve. Unless the citizens of the district show up at the annual meeting, at school board meetings, and, most importantly, at their polling sites to elect actual conservatives to the board, this will continue to happen every year. There are no surprises here. These are the consequences of lethargy, bad candidates, and stupid decisions by the district’s citizens.