Friday, August 31, 2007

West Bend School Referendum and Spring cleaning.

Hi folks,

I'm always surprised when the local paper actually prints anything I write to them, whether in paper or pixels. Here's a comment in pixels from The Daily News for 31 August 2007.

It's really an extension of some discussion that began over on Boots and Sabers when Owen, rather astonishingly, suggested that West Bend didn't have the discipline or need to clean up the crappy conditions our kids are forced to call their alma maters. You can find that discussion here.

Anyway, I dropped a note to the paper and the electronic version came out like this:

Columnist wrong about referendum

I have a bone to pick with my friend Owen Robinson about the West Bend School District referendum. He’s simply wrong about how important it is for us to suck it up and do the right thing.

The buildings where our kids go to class are 67 years old on average. The last building opened was the high school in 1970, 37 years ago. There's no insulation in the roof of Silverbrook and all of the buildings are chock full of asbestos. A lot of them have heating systems that are 60 years old and some don’t even have adequate sprinklers for fire safety.

The list of "things we should’ve done 20 years ago" goes on and on. All that helped me decide we’d better get to work and clean up the mess.

But there was a surprising plus. It struck me like this: "So if I’m responsible, my taxes for education will still be ‘lower’ than anyone else’s in the state? No brainer. Let’s go."

Owen seems to have miscalculated just how crowded things already are, something critical to understand why we have to do something now, and not duck this or hand it off to our children.

Owen suggests the referendum is a lot of hand-wringing for an increase of only 432 kids. He missed by almost 4,000.

The number of students using the schools has actually doubled since 1970. Today twice as many students walk through the halls as did in 1970, about 3,800 more. Add the additional 400 students projected over the next five years and the School District will be accommodating something closer to 4,200 more students than they originally built for.

Imagine doubling the traffic in West Bend, and then imagine we still had to use Highway P to drive into Milwaukee. Think how crowded that would be. That’s what the schools are putting up with. That’s what our kids are putting up with. I hate driving on Highway P.

So, imagine driving down the new Highway 45 and imagine the new Highway 45 still left your taxes at the lowest rate in the state.

That’s what the school district needs us to do. Add some extra lanes and still pay the lowest mil-rate in the state. It’s a great idea at a great price.

Not to do this is fiscally and -- and I know I keep coming back to this, but it's an occupational hazard -- ethically irresponsible to each other as neighbors. Americans have civic responsibilities. This is one of 'em and turns out to be a relatively inexpensive one.

The people who worked out what we need to do to bring the schools up to modern standards are conservative, hardheaded, pragmatic, and do not like spending their tax dollar any more than anyone else does -- and if this goes through they'll be paying a bit more of the share than the rest of us -- and they still insist that it's the best and most fiscally responsible route.

This too most certainly needs to pass.



Anonymous said...

Did see your letter. I heard that we will be hearing more from community "leaders" who will be coming forth in supporting the referendum. It may not affect the outcome, but at least information will get out there, and if people choose to dismiss it, so be it. It takes a certain fortitude to stand up for something that might not be popular with some of your friends, neighbors, relatives, and business associates. At the end of the day, we will see the "men separated from the boys", if you know what I mean (not being sexist, just using a familiar phrase). And we will be hearing from people with more depth and understanding of what has made West Bend an attractive community. It was no accident that West Bend was able to facilitate the construction of a UW branch - education was very highly valued by our community in the 60's.

I guess the original Daily News article is pretty predictable - nothing too profound as far as "predicting" that the referendum shall not pass. Considering that most referendums fail, as Michael Scott would say on "The Office", that's like shooting ducks in a barrel. And the article is just an articulate version of what you would hear from the "white hairs" at the KC Hall at the Friday night fish fry -"ach, the taxes are so high already - how do they expect us old people to survive". Not that I don't have empathy for those people - I do. Point is, the article makes me understand why the Brew City Brawler calls him "Ole Lady Robinson"

Downhour said...

I attended West Bend Schools from 1st grade through High School graduation. I attended Fair Park elementary for grades 1 -4, Badger Middle School for grades 5-8 and West bend West for 9-12. Badger is traditionally a 6-8 school but some of the elementary schools were overcrowded, so they decided to move some of the 5th graders to Badger which had some extra room. This was done for 2 years in the early 90's, then things evened out and Badger went back to a 6-8 grade school. These are the types of solutions that are needed.

I know some of the schools are in desperate need of maintenance. This is largely because administrators have been eyeing up a new building, and have intentionally ignored the maintenance. If they maintain the schools they can’t tell you how awful the old schools are. If they do the same thing with the proposed new schools, they will be asking for more in 5 years because they let them run down.

What the school district is asking is the equivalent of asking for a new house because the roof leaks or the heater is broken. Most people don't tear down the house when they need a new furnace or roof; they put on a new roof, and replace the heater. This is what West Bend must do, and voters can’t allow themselves to be fooled into accepting this referendum.

Mpeterson said...

I'd be hard pressed to imagine that some new additions as planned aren't preferable to living in a trailer -- something that will become necessary and expensive depending on what happens tomorrow.

I can tell you that nearly all of my students (18-22 years old) who attended the WB highschools laugh when I ask whether we need new buildings. They think we do. That by itself would almost be enough for me to support it.