January 21, 2020 – West Bend, WI – The West Bend School District Committee of the Whole reviewed several discussion items during its Monday night meeting with board members agreeing the Village of Jackson needed a new elementary school and possibly two new elementary schools were needed in the district.
In April 2019 voters in the West Bend School District turned down a proposed $47 million referendum, which would have totaled $74 million with interest.
In June 2019 a Private Task Force approached the district with a plan to use private funds to study an alternative way to assess existing conditions in the district and bring the expertise of how modern educational facilities should be designed.
Findings were presented by the Private Task Force in October 2019. A long-term sustainable approach was rolled out which included new facilities and a way to fund the project without increasing taxes. “Money is the solution to the problem – more money may not be,” said Task Force leader Kraig Sadownikow.
Fast forward to Monday night’s 2-and-a-half-hour meeting where the Committee of the Whole began with growth projections for the West Bend School District.
Village of Jackson President Mike Schwab and Village Administrator John Walther talked about development of single family and multifamily homes and they anticipated possible commercial development after the new municipal complex was completed.
Board member Paul Fischer asked for a breakdown of new housing starts over the last five years.
Schwab and Walther believed a school in Jackson was important to its identity as a Village. “It’s important for the future and the kids,” said Schwab. “Yes, we believe an elementary school is vital.”
Schwab also indicated the parcel the district purchased for $750,000 at W204 N16722 and W204 N16690 Jackson Drive was a better location for a new school than the current site. “It’s close to the community center, the new site is safer and it eliminates kids crossing Highway 60 to get to the Boys and Girls Club,” he said.
Questioned about the marketability of the current Jackson Elementary School, Schwab indicated it would “take careful planning.” He believed it could be an attractive site if it was “repurposed in a quick fashion.”
Economic development manager Adam Gitter then presented an overview of growth and development in the City of West Bend.
“Residential growth has been slow,” said Gitter.
The City, according to Gitter, has seen an increase in development of housing for senior citizens and the former Barton School is “workforce housing.”
The City is expanding into a new 216-acre industrial park on River Road and Highway NN. There was also a review given of newer business growth with additional Kwik Trips, Morrie’s Honda and the new Fleet Farm.
Questioned several times on where residential growth is most likely to occur, Gitter said it would be “pushing toward the east side of Highway 33.”
Christian G. Tscheschlok, executive director of Economic Development Washington County, presented an in-depth look at business growth and trends nationwide and then he brought the vision closer to West Bend.
He mentioned how “businesses need to sell products outside of Washington County” in order to succeed.
“Economic development is measured in jobs and new investment,” he said. “Over the last 10 years the trend is suggesting each project had job creation but that trend has declined because it’s hard to find employees.”
One of the key trends, said Tscheschlok, is the speed with which a business can develop. “Decisions are made in less than 90 days and the trend is end users don’t want to own properties but lease properties,” he said. “Project needs location, workforce and to be competitively priced.”
Questioned whether West Bend is prime for development Tscheschlok said the key factor was “availability of land.”
The district has been discussing future enrollment trends ever since October 2019 when administration indicated “unless there is a change in enrollment trends, the district can expect declining enrollment for the next 8-10 years.”
What are wishes of the board
Following the presentation of data, board members weighed in on the future of Jackson Elementary. In October one of the findings of the Task Force had been to close Jackson and build a new school to the north by about a mile to serve students in both West Bend and Jackson.
“Perhaps a school in Jackson is no longer justified,” said Randy Stark from the Task Force.
Construct one new school (783 capacity) at a south side location and expand Green Tree. Close/sell Jackson School, Jackson land, Decorah, Fair Park, District Offices, Rolfs & Maintenance. Develop a single central campus on the south side of WB.
Paul Fischer – I can’t personally see a community of 7,000 not having its own elementary school. It’s pretty obvious there’ s more growth happening in Jackson than in WB. It warrants having a K4 facility.
Erin Dove – I live in Jackson and my three kids went to Jackson Elementary. It was walk able for us and it feels like community. I can’t imagine leaving a community with 7,000 people and it’s hard to stomach.
Chris Zwygart – It would be ill-advised not to have a school there (in Jackson). We need to be a good partner.
Kurt Rebholz– We can’t afford to turn our back on Jackson and a whole student and parent population. Being bold do we put a K-6 school there. Getting into how do we fund it. I said before – getting out of the taxpayer base and being responsible for facilities the trend is for public sector communities to rent or lease space.
Superintendent Don Kirkegaard – We have ability to lease buildings too. Because we’re a low spending district all that will come out of Fund 10. The way you would pay for that is take it out of Fund 10 and that’s already strapped and where do we get the money to pay for the lease.
There was some discussion about closing an elementary school in West Bend; possibly closing Fair Park or Decorah Elementary and then building another elementary school. The board acknowledged a declining enrollment and debated the best scenario.
Finally, Superintendent Kirkegaard laid out three options. 1) new elementary in Jackson 2) what would cost be to renovate or add on to one of two elementary facilities 3) what would be cost to replace Fair Park and Decorah Elementary and build a school to the east.
There was also a proposal to move the Rolfs Education Center and relocate the Head Start program to Silverbrook while also moving the district office, possibly to Badger School. Kirkegaard said he is also exploring working with Moraine Park Technical college on a joint program to enhance building trades rather than remodeling the area at the high school.
The board did not address funding for the new school proposals other than referendum. Maintenance projects such as locker rooms at the high school were suggested could be paid for by fundraising and/or a private partnership with area businesses.
The Task Force indicated funding in lieu of a referendum could be generated through consolidation of the campus, selling property, and outsourcing jobs.