The original statement regarding high school facilities

Before the High School Steering/Next Steps team, there were a group a genuine no voters that gathered to discuss the high school facility needs. We came up with a statement of our own. It’s time to see if the Elmbrook school district rose to the challenge with the upcoming April 2008 referendum:

Non-resident enrollment
Resident enrollment should be the only factor considered when determining curriculum and facility needs.

The number of non-resident students supported by district taxpayers is of significant concern when considering a perceived need for new square footage at either high school. The number/percentage of Open Enrollment students admitted each year is determined according to district policy – it is not dictated by state mandates. Implementing a more stringent policy for non-district enrollment will help to control the associated costs of educating more students (both academic and non-academic.) Similarly, requiring non-resident students to reapply at the high school level (when resident enrollment typically shows a slight increase) will help to alleviate any perceived over-crowding in our high schools.

There is concern that Advanced Placement classes are being held in both high schools that do not present enough interest to enroll a full section. By allowing classes of 10 or 14 students in AP selections, the district justifies filling the usual curriculum choice with non-resident students. In summary, there is concern that slightly populated AP courses are exacerbating the non-resident student issue. Also, there is concern that one class in each high school is too much. Consider solutions such as alternating classes by semester between high schools on a schedule that lets a student anticipate that timing, much like colleges do for upper level courses.

–The HSST team recommended 1,150 students per high school as the resident enrollment projection. The school board paid thousands for an independent consultant to determine the number. The board arbitrarily increased the count 120 students per high school to accommodate non-resident enrollment. The board plans to continue a program of educating students outside the Elmbrook district.

The board has started rhetoric to suggest that middle-school non-resident students MAY be asked to reapply prior to high school, but no policy has been implemented. The board has slowed the number of positions that are opened each year, but has not reduced current non-resident enrollment. The increase in final planned enrollment numbers accommodates non-resident enrollment.

–No team/board statement was given to the concern of small AP classes.

Enrollment projections
Use full transparency when showing enrollment projections. Comparing Elmbrook District numbers to general “area” numbers from SWRPC that include the whole county, or even several counties does not give an accurate picture of what is happening in our community. Western Waukesha County is growing very fast. The Elmbrook District area is not.

Articulate the resident enrollment for the last ten years and let voters see the trend for themselves. Disclose how projections for resident students are calculated.

If district elementary schools are overbuilt, consider solutions such as closing one or more to save taxpayers the expense of operation costs.

–There was transparency in the original HSST enrollment discussion. There has been limited transparency in the board decision to increase the enrollment numbers. Minutes from the board are truncated and do not give a full picture of board discussion.

–There has not been any discussion initiated of facilities or land outside of the high school issue.

Classroom sizes
If the district administration perceives classrooms are crowded, consider keeping classrooms at their current physical sizes and reducing the number of students in each classroom. This provides a better teacher/student ratio, which has been proven to increase student performance.

While a specific discipline – like science – might benefit from one or two new rooms, sufficient reason has not been given for expanding the current overall classroom footprint.

Facilities including cafeterias should always be designed for maximum use. Special use areas like lounges should be discouraged.

–While the HSST made a recommendation consistent with this request, the board bypassed the HSST decision and expanded the size of a number of classrooms. They argue that larger classrooms with a poor teacher/student ratio will be needed because of future budget cuts.

–The cafeterias are generously sized in the remodeling plan.

Pursue the flexibility that technology allows by encouraging a virtual environment when possible. This could include using virtual classrooms for AP courses, a full high school curriculum, specialty courses, selected individual courses, or even allowing students to use personal laptops in the classroom. A full virtual high school curriculum should be considered.

–I can’t find any statement on this request. It’s as though the subject didn’t exist.

Security and maintenance
Security upgrades are being made over the summer to both high schools. Security deficits, therefore, should not be used as arguments supporting the next referendum.

Likewise, consider performing ongoing maintenance in a timely fashion. Deferred maintenance such as replacing boilers should not be used as arguments supporting the next referendum.

In addition, a strict visitor’s policy should be actively enforced at all district facilities to ensure the personal safety of the students and staff in our schools. Opening the doors for public tours and allowing workers building access during the school day is a security threat, and should not be tolerated.

–The district fails miserably on this issue. Safety is still being used to sell the referendum – even though the majority of improvements are in the regular budget. It’s sad that the district insists upon fear to sell you.

–Regular maintenance continues to fail under the district plan. (Example, leak in music room at Central.)

–School tours continue during this referendum as well. No stricter policies have been implemented regarding visitors. (Personal account at East for the last statement.)

Length of a solution and financing
The plan for the high schools should highlight flexibility for the future, not a defined 50 year solution. With that goal in mind, there is a growing consensus that the plans to improve the high school should be phased in over several years. This will also facilitate the opportunity to pay as we go and minimize the cost of financing.

–The solution does not plan for smaller improvements over time. Bonding conditions are improved with this referendum. Interest rates continue to move lower. (The country is anticipating another significant Fed rate cut as I type.) They will likely remain low for the next couple of years and could be even more favorable a year from now.

The lower interest rates alone have made a significant impact in the final cost of this referendum compared to last year’s. Next year could see another 30% reduction in final cost.

Always keep in mind that the electorate wants to know what is driving any issue. Maximum transparency in everything from budget decisions to contractor estimates is required to build voter confidence. The electorate will continue to ask questions and expects timely and courteous responses.

–Transparency is still lacking. Repeated attempts to gain referendum information over the last 3 weeks has garnered NO response from the district. Details of the costs remain secret. The final recommendation of the HSST plan was never posted to the district’s Web site.

(This is a quick morning version – it’s subject to change after a second cup of coffee!)