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Monday, January 24, 2011

WI TAXPAYERS ALLIANCE Lends Insight, Addresses Lack of Community Trust

The Doctor is IN

This was like getting a check-up with your primary care physician.....

Attended West Bend School Board work session tonight.  Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance WISTAX (Todd Berry and Dale Knapp) gave a full report on a study they did of the district.  Here's what they had to say:

The West Bend School District approached them last fall about doing a study of the district.

The study reflected -
The frugal values of the district.
Where the District's priorities are.
Higher share of spending is for instruction and "core" instruction (K5 and reading/writing/arithmetic)
The District spends a relatively small amount on building and grounds.
Largest expense is for salaries and benefits (82% of basic spending)
Teacher salaries against comparable districts show we are at the high end
The District is relatively debt free, especially compared to surrounding districts, in 2009/2010.

WISTAX stated that over the past 10 years there has been a 50% increase in revenue limits and spending.  Property taxes have gone way up.  The reason for the tax increase is a shift in policy at the state level.  

WISTAX projected that going into 2020, the District needs to:
1.  Gain cost flexibility OR
2.  Gain revenue flexibility

OPEN ENROLLMENT (This was a very interesting and very TELLING portion of the presentation)

WISTAX stated that the figures on Open Enrollment were a WARNING SIGN.  The number of students opting OUT of the District were far surpassing those who were opting in.  The number of students opting INTO the District is declining as well.  

I wish I had the slide that was shown with the stats on it, but the number of opted out students jumped dramatically over the past 5 years, from as low as 25, all the way up to 73 last year.  It is interesting to note that this large declination began when the current superintendent, Pat Herdrich, came to the District.  Not saying anything one way or the other here.  Draw your own conclusions.

WISTAX stated that this most likely had to do with people's perceptions of the school district and that something needs to change as perception is reality (this was said numerous times).


"The buck stops with you."  
Don't use the word "cut" as it is deceptive.  Instead, use the word "reallocating" to indicate real redistribution of funds, and state what was done.
The School Board cannot be disagreeing about data.  Promotes lack of trust in the community.
The School Board needs to go back to "square one."
Hammer out understanding of what the core values and priorities of the District are.
Get a rolling three-year budget.  Ask Administration to project budets to get an idea of where you are going.
Because of spending/property tax disconnect:
a) Should think of other ways to assure fiscal responsibility
b) Monitor three-year property tax.
West Bend is a frugal and fiscally responsible community; people expect that out of their government as well.
Facilities/maintenance costs are currently $1 million annually; need to work on deferred maintenance issues
Smooth out costs of deferred maintenance by assuming some debt.  If you borrow, you wont have to go to referendum; if you go to referendum, you'll gain public trust.

WISTAX Key Concepts:
Spending/tax disconnect
The District has not been able to manage cost.  Need State to change lw to give flexibility.
Seek that at State level in next 3-4 months. 
Take back local control and flexibility.
Speak to Legislature.
Rewrite state law to give Districts charter school flexibility.
Use Charter school concept as strategy to manage costs.
The West Bend community sees a board that is divided.  There is a general lack of trust and lack of communication.
Find ways to reach consensus.
School Board members could gain insight from college boards by sitting in on deliberations, committees and work sessions.
Should have a 9-member school board instead of 7.
Try committees of the whole to save time and work.
West Bend is a metaphor for what's going on in the economy, i.e., the economy is reflected here.
There are elements of the community who do not feel represented in Board decision-making.
Actions the Board has taken have affected public perception.
Work on communication.
The time has come for the WBSD to develop some kind of process to develop a vision.
Need to spend more time teaching community members.
Get broad range of shareholders involved.

School Board members had some time for questions with WISTAX....

Joe Carlson addressed the legislative issues.  WISTAX said that now is the time to speak to our two legislators.  The entire School Board should meet with our elected representatives collectively.

Kris Beaver interjected that the School Board has spoken to both Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Pat Strachota (previous post said Panzer - it was late - my error), both of whom (he states) were not supportive and "lent a deaf ear" to them.

WISTAX:  West Bend was better off with money in the levy credit.  We should not fold levy credit into the aid formula. 

"The referendum process is communication." - WISTAX

"The public is pretty darn rational."  -WISTAX

WISTAX also suggested we consider extending our building life and cutting future utility and maintenance costs.

WISTAX "When the District "lays all their cards on the table," they are believable and gain public trust.  Be honest.
The District has an attitude of "you don't understand."
The District has come across as having an attitude.
Put things in clear, simple language that the average person can understand.

CFAC met directly following this presentation.  I stayed long enough to hear John Grundahl recommend TAXING TO THE LEVY MAX.

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