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West Bend School District proposes closing Decorah Elementary, Fair Park Elementary, and Rolfs Education Center

April 11, 2024 – West Bend, WI – The West Bend School Board is reviewing long-range facility plans and the preliminary thought is to close three buildings including Decorah Elementary, Fair Park Elementary and the Rolfs Education Center.

west bend school district

 

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According to the district the goal is to address declining enrollment, and aging buildings and grounds in a changing environment. The thought, according to the district is grades K-5 would be at Green Tree, McLane, and Silverbrook schools. The Early Learning Program classrooms previously located in Rolfs would be at McLane and Green Tree.
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It was 2019 when a volunteer task force presented an overview of the facilities and operations in the West Bend School District.

Task force member Kraig Sadownikow – “We challenged ourselves to ask tough questions. It’s critical to take a long term, sustainable approach. Over the mid and long term these are best choices.

“It can’t be business as usual. Funding and enrollment is declining.”

 

WBSD Private Task Force

 

Kraig Sadownikow – “Found a need to use a rolling 25-year plan that’s updated. It can’t be stagnant. Current decisions are being made using info that’s dated. The info is a decade old. Administration should present a plan on an annual basis along with a 5-year public committee.

“As a district there are multiple campuses at wide geographical locations. That means maintaining and monitoring is difficult. This makes operating the district more expensive.”

“Communication is critical with residents; currently it isn’t transparent. Erring on side of too much communication is better than too little.”

“Money is the solution to the problem – more money may not be.”

“Finally – the capital maintenance budget is inadequate. It’s underfunded. Can’t consider a new investment in new facilities without considering how to maintain what we currently have. Building new while avoiding maintenance is a losing situation.”

Click HERE for the rest of the report from the Task Force.

Task force member Doug Barnes from Zimmerman Architectural Studios – “Other school districts that have consolidated include New Berlin which has closed four schools and Beaver Dam has closed elementary schools and consolidated and Racine.”

Randy Stark – task force member: How do we take older inventory off line and replace it.

Options from the 2019 Task Force:

  • We could do nothing. Keep spending $1.5 mil a year on facilities
  • Retain all building and come up with money and address immediate capital needs however the design characteristics with concerns can’t be changed. Even if come up with $22.5 mil – we still have 80% of square footage is getting older.
  • Replace Jackson – in 25-year plan – solves some problems but only addresses one building.

“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.

2019 School board member Paul Fischer  – “There’s definitely stuff to think about here and the hard work starts tomorrow. There’s a lot of decisions to be made and they’re not easy. Doing nothing is not an option. The proposal to close the schools is definitely out of the box.”

During a recent WBSD public-information meeting February 22, 2024, former board member Paul Fischer was asked what changes the district incorporated following the 2019 task force report.  Fischer walked away and out the door with no response.

In a recent statement the district said, “the long-range facility planning process began in summer 2023.”

CLICK HERE to read the complete 2019 Task Force report

The district spent about $85,000 on its own facility study. Task force member Owen Robinson said their months-long study over the summer in 2019 cost the district nothing.

The district said it showed significant capital maintenance needs in many of the buildings.

Robinson agreed. The task force came up with a $55 million fix.

The district and its construction partner said it is looking at $229.4 million over 15 years for its estimate.  The district has indicated this is the “first phase” of the project.

During the April 10, 2024 work session the board explored a first phase of a Long-Range Facility Plan that includes rightsizing and other capital improvements:

● Closing Decorah Elementary, Fair Park Elementary, and Rolfs Education Center and
establishing three elementary schools that are grades K-5 utilizing Green Tree, McLane,
and Silverbrook schools. The Early Learning Program classrooms previously located in
Rolfs would be placed in McLane and Green Tree.
● Building a new K-8 school in Jackson on district-owned land on Jackson Drive and
adjacent to the community center. Badger Middle School would also serve grades 6-8.
● Making focused renovations at East/West High School, Green Tree, and McLane to
create secure main office entries and provide additional layers of security throughout the
schools. Also at Green Tree and McLane, renovations to create a larger nurse’s office,
and to add bathrooms to accommodate early learning.

 

 

The West Bend School District is looking at a potential referendum on the November 2024 ballot.

Coming up the district will hold another community conversation on facilities. The meetings are Tuesday, April 16 at 6 p.m. and Thursday, April 25 at 6 p.m. both in the West High School Cafeteria.

After the community conversations are complete, the board will convene a work session for further discussion. Following that, a survey will be sent to all West Bend School District attendance area residents.

In 2018 the referendum survey with School Perceptions cost the district $16,800. Neighbors in the district were disappointed the district only published a portion of the survey results even though 100% of the survey was paid for by taxpayers.

Calls were placed to the district Thursday for more insight.

Former task force member Robinson responded, “My criticism of the WBSD is pretty simple. They’ve known about the facilities issues for what… 15 years? They’ve known that enrollment was trending down – significantly. They had the facilities study that we did 5 years ago. They’ve known all of this and didn’t do a dang thing. Nothing. Until now they are going to claim a crisis that needs tens of millions of dollars to “fix” due to their rank neglect and incompetence. Meanwhile, scores continue to decline, and violence is becoming an increasingly pressing issue in the schools. If I were a shareholder of this “company,” I’d be selling my holdings or insisting on a wholesale leadership replacement. I certainly wouldn’t be investing more.”

This is a working story, and more information will be posted when details are available.

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