April 2, 2018 – West Bend, WI – Election Day is Tuesday, April 3 and there are quite a few races on the ballot for neighbors in Washington County.
In West Bend there are four candidates vying for two seats on the school board. During a recent sit down with Monte Schmiege, Chris Zwygart, Kurt Rebholz and Mary Weigand we discussed bullying and upcoming referendums.
Thoughts on bullying in the district and how to resolve it were featured in Part 1 of this report. Click HERE to see Part 1.
The second topic of discussion focused on referendums.
A Citizens Facility Advisory Committee has been working the past three months on possible referendums to address facility needs at Jackson Elementary School and East/West High Schools. New construction of a two-story Jackson Elementary School is being discussed along with a remodel of the high schools including STEM/tech-ed classrooms, locker rooms, and an expansion for storage. So far the school board says no decision has been made to move forward with a referendum however, Bray Associates Architects did oversee months of meetings and tours with CFAC and on March 19 the board took action on a recommendation to hire a construction management firm and CG Schmidt was tabbed.
Monte Schmiege – I need more information (on a Jackson referendum) because conditions have changed somewhat since 2012 when the idea first arose. I would seriously like to consider a remodel at Jackson Elementary but we’re told remodeling cost more in the long run but I don’t know if that’s a valid argument. I need to see numbers on paper before I figure that out. Schmiege declined comment on the agenda item regarding ‘proposed property purchase’ because “I don’t want to violate any closed session. I have no comment.”
As far as the referendum for the remodel of the high school I need to look more deeply into it. Hopefully the construction manager will give us some insight. We only had one meeting where that was introduced to us and no details were provided. As far as an operational referendum, there is no consideration of that now.
Chris Zwygart – There are still many more questions that need to be asked including enrollment projections. We need to understand what does our future look like as it relates to demand from the students so we can be sure to size the facilities appropriately and that we have the right facilities for those right needs. Until we actually look at it, I don’t know. The other concern I have relates to the fact we don’t have a superintendent right now and the idea of moving forward without a superintendent I think is not helpful to the likelihood of passage. I’m assuming if the school board views it as a referendum to put forward then the school board is generally in favor of the referendum. That’s tough to do in absence of a superintendent and so I think that’s something the school board needs to look at as well. ((Consultants from McPherson & Jacobson, LLC did advise the board not to move forward with a referendum until a superintendent was in place.)) Zwygart said, “I’m a big believer in collaboration and listening to experts and weighing that very carefully so if we have an expert that says that, that should weigh heavily in our decision.”
Kurt Rebholz – We first need to do an energy assessment of Jackson and all the older buildings on the elementary school level and high school level before we talk about referendum and drafting any type of language to the community. There are savings to be had that will save the taxpayer money that you won’t have to go to referendum for all the improvements that need to be made. ((Discussing a new Jackson Elementary or a remodel for a referendum)) Declining enrollment issue – it wasn’t a survey of the business community or area or economy, to me it was more of an incomplete survey and I don’t know why they presented that at the school board meeting. To me enrollment, we can make enrollment go up with a great business environment. I’m not sold on the facts of the survey. Obviously something needs to be done in Jackson but then again I want a full energy study because you are talking about a significant amount of money. Yes the school district has $1.4 million in a maintenance budget a year and all I know in helping school districts all of the country you have old lighting, and bad roofs and I go back to this energy study to see how much that can fund building improvements before we talk about the referendum. And with regard to an additional property purchase – I just think we need a full assessment of energy. I’m a business owner and I want to know what we’re paying for and the community should be full aware from A-Z and there shouldn’t be a blanket check. Questioned whether he talked to Dave Ross about an energy performance plan in the district, Rebholz said no but he “looks forward to talking to him about it.”
Mary Weigand – Previous boards have thought ahead and set aside almost $5 million for Jackson Elementary and I hope that money is still there and not an attempt to use that money to buy more land in Jackson. There was a closed session meeting with the school board and the agenda did indicate discussion of ‘potential property purchase.’ I don’t know what transpired. The Village of Jackson is chomping at the bit for the school district to decide what it will do as far as purchasing six acres of land adjacent to what they already own. I talked to some Village Board members and they were a little frustrated at how slow the district was moving and the very next week I saw the closed session meeting about the land purchase so it made me suspicious.
Jackson has about 370 students and there is declining enrollment across the district and the state as well. Jackson has more square footage per student than any other elementary school in the district right now. It is a quirky building and if there is remodeling we have $5 million to do that. I have not seen a proposal of what could be done with that $5 million because that’s not something the administration wants to do but I would like to see that and I’d like to see possibly a new gym built with that money because it would help free up some space in the cafeteria and it wouldn’t be such a chore to switch over from cafeteria to gym.
As far as the high school is concerned the tech ed rooms seemed squished but right there is an opportunity to partner with some community businesses and possibly get some funding through businesses. We could work together with Moraine Park Technical College. I’m happy to see so many kids gravitating to automotive, wood shop, and metals.
(While no dollar amount has been linked to the proposed referendums a $40 million example has been mentioned during meetings at the school district.)