Saturday, April 11, 2009

The happy consequences of saying yes. West Bend's 2009 School referendum

Hi everyone,

The referendum worked out okay. The citizenry decided to head off what could have been a spectacular law suit by voting to repair Badger Middle School -- which has been out of compliance with the ADA for ... well, forever.

Where's the beet pollen when you need some?

Anyway, Saturday's happy column.

The happy consequences of saying yes

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on Tuesday’s referendum. You saved Badger Middle school, one of the most important landmarks in West Bend and a part of our history.

The people who built the original Badger in the years leading up to the Depression gladly sacrificed for their kids, despite tough times. That’s exactly what voters in West Bend’s School District began to do this past Tuesday. Progress works when we all work together.

Those who worked to pass this referendum were a perfect post-partisan storm of people from across the political spectrum. In this case, they represented the best kind of politics: the kind that begins with the needs of children – for my money, the only sensible ground for any and all politics.

Who were these folks? Remember those mysterious house parties that a few of our local bloggers, and even a couple of media celebrities, found threatening enough to suggest “the authorities” should “monitor them”? I went to a couple. I guess neighbors inviting each other over for cake and coffee to talk about a school referendum may sound revolutionary to some people but, to me, it sounded like fun. When people start talking with each other they discover they have a lot in common – like their kids. The parties I went to included both working and full time moms, a bank teller, a real estate agent, a professional HVAC technician, people who owned their own small businesses, members of the Chamber of Commerce and more than a few life-long Republicans who gave me some good natured ribbing about my columns. They were great and everyone made new friends. I guess that’s revolutionary.

Some wonderful people worked on the campaign but, more importantly, they helped more voters than ever say “yes” to progress last Tuesday. The first referendum question, addressed to taking the strain off our over-crowded classrooms, didn’t quite make it – but here is an interesting number: in the city of West Bend 3,433 people voted yes and only 3,470 said no. Within the city of West Bend then, question No. 1 only needed 19 more votes to be successful. That was a closer vote than ever.

The district will still have to move eighth-graders into the high school(s) now, and start running split shifts – I’m glad I’m not one of the parents who will have to drive their kids to school at 6 a.m. or go pick them up at 6 p.m., depending on their shift – but the next referendum should take the uncertainty and inconvenience out of our schools situation and make things easier for everyone.

That was Question No. 1.

On Question No. 2, a majority of all voters said yes and saved Badger.

Good stories fuel campaigns. Three of my favorites came from kids at Badger.

1) One of the kids joked that the cracks in the foundation at Badger were moving faster than the School Board.

2) One student was able to (successfully!) complain that mice had eaten her backpack – and her homework – in their locker at Badger. Once construction is complete, she’ll have to go back to “my dog ate my homework” (or, more likely these days, “the computer ate my homework.”)

3) There was also the young man who broke his leg and couldn’t navigate the 45,000 levels of Badger’s interior obstacle course with his leg in a cast. He had to transfer out and finish the year away from his friends. Once Badger is up to federal code, no kid will get pulled from his friends because of a twisted ankle or wheel chair.

OK, one more. Let me mention a story that embodies the success of this campaign. On the last night of calling school supporters, I dialed a wrong number and wound up listening to a wonderful lady down in Jackson explain why she was voting for the referendum. “Do you have kids in the district?” I asked her. “Oh no, not any more” she said. Then she got dead serious and I heard a slight quaver in her voice, “but someone paid so that my kids could go through school here – now it’s my turn.”

That brave woman and all the other voters who courageously said yes during tough economic times can take pride in making Badger safe for another generation.

Next time we can do even more.


justanotherbovine said...

That was a good column. Your story about the senior citizen reminded me of summer 2007, when the other referendum was being pondered. I am not the type to persuade people to vote a certain way, but I do like to offer information if asked & listen to what people have to say. I was at a graduation picnic, and one of the host's neighbors was there. He was all stressed about the possibility of the referendum passing - he was retired, his wife was still working. His story was that they had moved out to WB from Milwaukee ("escaped" was what he said), he still had a mortgage on his house, their children no longer lived in WB(they went to public schools in WB - I assume at the time he considered that better than MPS), and when his wife retired they were going to move to Grafton. His big concern was that there would be a tax increase before that would happen.

I heard that the referendum had more support in the "high value" areas (like City of West Bend) than the areas where the property taxes are lower (like the townships). Anyone have a way of figuring if that was really so?

Mpeterson said...

The ward by ward results are posted at the county website, here:

I asked a few years ago for a list of median property value by district as a way to compare voting patterns to property value and estimated income, but no go.