School board candidates support April referendum
Share thoughts about it, possible options if it fails
By Brianna Stubler
WEST BEND — April 2 will bring an important question to West Bend residents, as well as an opportunity to decide what the West Bend Joint School District’s school board will look like for the foreseeable future. With Ken Schmidt and Tiffany Larson taking a step back, three candidates have begun their campaign to fill those seats on the Board of Education. Paul Fischer, Christopher Bach and Erin Dove will have their names on the April election ballot. They shared their thoughts on the $47 million referendum.
Fischer said he supports the referendum.
“I don’t look forward to increased taxes, but I understand that buildings are costly to operate and maintain,” he said. “In some situations, the practicality of investing significant maintenance dollars into a facility isn’t prudent, as was determined when the Jackson Fund was created.
“The number of approved referenda in relatively quick succession doesn’t concern me, as staggering our projects avoids introducing a lumpy flow into our maintenance schedule. I believe smaller initiatives, done sequentially, lead to a more even distribution over time. The alternative requires a much larger referendum, both in scope and cost, creating more significant budgetary peaks and valleys over time. Consider Fond du Lac’s current $90-98 million request that touches nearly every school. When those items hit their end-of-life time frame, another major request will be needed to address at that time,” he said.
“Should the referendum not be approved, critical thinking is absolutely required. As Superintendent [Don] Kirkegaard has stated, scheduled maintenance items district-wide would have to be re-prioritized with needs at Jackson Elementary and the high school no longer addressed by the referendum. Specific to Jackson Elementary, I think all long-term options need to be put on the table, including potential closing and redrawing our K-4 boundaries. I don’t like that
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idea, as I believe a community of Jackson’s size warrants a K-4 school in their neighborhood, but if the will of the people indicates otherwise, it’s the board’s responsibility to consider all valid alternatives. At the high school, the referendum scope would need to be broken down and prioritized. Personally, I would prefer to address the CTE improvements first, to the extent that we can without relocating the office. I understand the concerns regarding security, but if we have to prioritize our needs, for me the classroom experience comes first,” Fischer said.
Bach said he is in favor of the referendum passing as well.
“I consider myself a fiscal conservative and I am in favor of the referendum. I believe that this is a good time to take advantage of the low district debt as well as low interest rates to invest in the district facilities. The high school presents an opportunity to update aging systems and adapt to the new technology and requirements of education today. Many things have reached the end of their useful life, parts of the roof, HVAC systems, plumbing systems among them. An investment now to replace them will be that ounce of prevention that is worth a pound of cure when they eventually fail. I believe that the Jackson school is also a worthwhile investment. The new location and building are needed as a remodel to the current building would be almost as costly and would not solve the dropoff and safety concerns,” Bach said.
Based on the information he was given, he said, the referendum is not a frivolous waste of money.
“The district has worked hard to carefully steward the money given for the upkeep of the buildings. However, that budget is not nearly large enough to maintain, much less improve, the facilities in our district. Thus, it now falls to the community to decide if they believe this additional investment is worth it,” Bach said.
“If the referendum fails the district will look at the improvement master plan and triage what is most important. The approximately 1.5 million dollars allocated for capital improvement district wide will not go far. I am confident that Superintendent Kirkegaard and his team will make informed recommendations on which projects are most needed. The only option I see would be to go back to the voters with a reduced dollar ask to update only the most critical infrastructure. Unfortunately, after attending the informational session, there does not seem much that can be cut,” he said.
Dove said she, too, supports the referendum for multiple reasons.
“A new Jackson Elementary building would solve numerous long-standing issues with that facility,” she said. “The prospect of a new building, which has been discussed for several years, was one of the many reasons that drew me to choosing Jackson Elementary for my children. Addressing safety, pick-up and drop-off procedures, and lack of parking should be a top priority, as well as having a building that is ADA compliant. We need to be able to safely serve every student.
Safety is also a priority for West and East students, Dove said.
“Centralizing the offices would address that. Behind the walls, but still important, both these facilities desperately need upgrades in infrastructure. Of utmost importance to me, and I believe many in the community is that this referendum would also enable the creation of or upgrade to learning spaces for learners today and in the future.”
To the complaint that West Bend has seen too may referendums, she counters with the unique needs presented in each prior referendum.
“Each previous referendum addressed distinct needs in specific schools. I believe this approach has been successful for West Bend. It allowed for greater focus and the ability for the community to see well planned school projects, completed on time and within budget. Overall, we are a fiscally conservative community. All three referendums were proposed during times of low interest rates. Fiscally conservative, to me, doesn’t mean that we avoid spending money, it means we should spend it wisely,” Dove said.
If it fails, she echoed the district’s statement that there is no reasonable alternative.
“They’ve shared that there is not enough budget to address all routine building maintenance and operating costs, well enough address the aging infrastructure. Unfortunately, the likely backup plan could be to delay one school’s maintenance projects to focus on key issues in another — with school safety being a probable priority. This referendum is aimed at addressing this cycle,” Dove said.