To Combine or Not Combine

Candidates for school board don’t agree about whether East and West should remain separate schools

By Abby Janto, Current Staff

Should East and West combine?

That question has been a hot topic for the past several years among students and families in the West Bend School District.  Some argue that merging the schools could potentially unify our schools and community.  Others see having two schools in one building as a convenient set-up and a unique feature that sets West Bend apart from every other district in the nation.

These arguments only touch the surface of the complexity of the debate.  But who better to tackle this topic than potential school board members?

On Tuesday, April 1, three new school board members will be elected.  Candidates include Ryan Gieryn, Michelle Simpson, and incumbents Rick Parks and Bart Williams.

The West Bend Current asked the candidates to answer the following question: What is your view on the topic of combining East and West High Schools?

Should East and West combine?

Ryan Gieryn

YESThe first thing that we must look at is academics because that is obviously the most important aspect of our school system.  Combining the two schools into one would allow the district to consolidate the individual departments (science, English, world languages, etc.) into single departments.  This would allow us to take advantage of the classic economics principle of economies of scale.  Economies of scale allows companies, or school districts, operational efficiencies leading to lower costs.  Another argument that has to do with academics is the scholarship program.  Supporters of the two school model are going to argue that if you combine into one school that the amount of scholarships is going to decrease because organizations that provide scholarships often provide one to each school.  I would say that this argument is not valid.  It is most likely that these organizations would continue to give the same number of scholarships that they currently do whether it is two schools or one.  In fact, you may be able to convince new groups to provide scholarships given that there are groups out there that are able to give one but cannot give two.

The next thing to look at is how will this affect the arts.  Almost all of the arts programming (choir, music, drama, etc.) is currently operated as one school.  We will continue to work hard to maintain our current standard of excellence for these programs.

The last thing is athletics.  Combining the two schools into one would increase numbers in each program, increase competition, and help push our athletes to strive for excellence at their individual disciplines.  I feel that it would also increase community support as the whole West Bend community could get behind our teams instead of just half of the community.  Combining the two schools would also increase our school’s enrollment which would most likely move our district into Division I status.  This would help to provide us the opportunity to play some of the bigger schools in the area and hopefully help West Bend move into the North Shore conference.  All the schools in the North Shore conference are closer than many of the schools in the Little Ten Conference.  There would be no more bus rides to Watertown or Oconomowoc.  This would also help reduce travel costs.

While, unlike the other candidates, I have essentially lived the two school system for all of my life, the market tells me, unbiasedly, that a one school system is the appropriate direction for the West Bend School District.

Rick Parks

MAYBEI’m interested in having discussions about the pros and cons and high school consolidation.  While I don’t have a final position at this point there seems to be enough dialogue going on in the community on the topic that the board should at least have a discussion.  I don’t think this would be driven by any cost-savings goals, but more on considering how we can set up students to have the best experience in the extra-curricular activities.

Michelle Simpson

YESI recognize and appreciate the two school, one building model developed in 1970.  Since its inception, it has provided for sharing of resources – both physical and human (e.g., auditorium, natatorium, music department, gymnasium complex, weight room, teachers).  Currently, the high schools continue to have two student bodies, teachers, principals, and sports teams.  At this point in time, the largest notable change resulting from the combining of the two student bodies would involve the sports teams.  In my view, the combining of the schools would be a positive step toward meeting our district’s goal of becoming a Destination District.   Students gifted in athletic ability would be provided the opportunity to be a member of a competitive team where success can be achieved.  Students seeking academic and athletic rigor would choice into our district versus choice out. Combining of the schools would also provide the opportunity for our West Bend High Schools’ student body, parents, and West Bend community members to unify and support our athletic programs – together – at single events.  An example where this recently occurred was the West Bend High School Wizard of Oz musical.  This musical was cast with students from our combined high school student body and resulted in a stellar production – one which will be remembered for years to come. This is what a unified, well-led student body can achieve.

Bart Williams

NOI support keeping our two high schools.  Changing to one school poses significant risks – such as dividing our community, a reduced number of scholarships and scholarship dollars, loss of affiliation for generations of Spartans and Suns alumni, the large and permanent nature of a wrong decision, etc. – without any clear benefits.  It would also cost more money (new uniforms, signs, other expenses) to go to one high than it would save.  Surveys were conducted several years ago clearly showing that all stakeholder groups supported two high schools except athletic coaches.  Again, there is no evidence that one high school would have any more successful athletic teams.  Comparably-sized New Berlin (NB) Eisenhower (state basketball champs 2007-08) and NB West (baseball champions 2013) prove that.  The real answer lies in increasing students’ participation rates in athletics, and this can be done through improving and expanding youth leagues and intramurals, developing “C” teams, attracting and retaining consistently excellent coaches, further encouraging multi-sport student-athletes, etc.

Responses were submitted via email and edited for length.

5 Comments

Filed under Community, School News and Features, Sports, Viewpoint

5 responses to “To Combine or Not Combine

  1. Sally Heuer

    This is an age old question. Perhaps the school board should find, in the archives, the results of the rather in-depth and time consuming study that was done a few years ago. A large number of school and community participants spent countless hours gathering facts and data. It was overwhelmingly decided that, for academics, it was best to keep two schools. As far as athletics, perhaps one would be better, although that came with its own set of issues as well. Although I personally feel athletics are a very important part of the educational experience, a school’s number one job is to educate children . The decision made was a good one based on the data. And isn’t that what the West Bend School District prides itself on…using the data to make decisions?

  2. Terry Mercier

    It looks, from board members comments above, like some board members have already made up their minds. Shouldn’t they listen to residents/tax payers, whom they represent, before making their decision???

  3. Melissa Gloff

    The tag line for the West Bend School District used to read “where children come first” I wonder when that changed? My parents taught in the West Bend Schools for over 35 years. During that time the schools were top notch. We had smaller class sizes, an emphasis on education and we stood behind our teachers. In the past 5+ years that all seems to have changed. Every decision made within the district seems to be driven by money. Children are no longer first, the budget is. The decision to combine the schools is being made strictly for budgeting reasons because it saves money. I used to be so proud of our school district, we WERE an award winning district but now greed is the driving force. Please keep the schools separate we don’t need to have the largest high school in the state. Our kids would be up against larger communities for sports.

    • Anonymous

      I am really sick of hearing about this. High school does not matter anymore once you are accepted to a college. Class rank changes based on combining schools will not effect college admissions, as colleges use a school profile to evaluate grading systems, course rigor, and class ranking processes in place. Coming from an academically advanced student, combining will play no effect on high school course enrollment, simply athletics. Maybe I just do not value athletics over education, as many combination opposers do.

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