More than 75 people attended the first listening session about combining the high schools
By Miranda Paikowski, Current Staff
For Kelly Luce, merging East and West will damage West Bend’s character.
“Why would we want to take what is unique, what is special, away?,” asked Luce, a community member, while attending a forum on the proposed plan to combine the twin high schools.
Superintendent Ted Neitzke led a discussion at Silverbrook Intermediate School Tuesday night, during which a number of community members voiced their opinions on the merger. He began by stating the main purpose for the session. “This is an opportunity for the school board to look for what is needed to improve,” Neitzke said.
There were questionnaires placed on each table, and attendees were encouraged to fill them out to give feedback to the board.
Two board members, Ryan Gieryn and Vinney Pheng, were in attendance, as well as over 75 community members. Neitzke said that he was extremely pleased with the turnout.
The comments made by the audience dramatically reflected a desire for keeping the schools separate, at least for now.
“It’s not the time right now,” said Rhonda Heisdorf, expressing her concern at the rapidity of the high schools’ re-configuration. Heisdorf believes that once the new middle school system is set up (one fifth and sixth grade school, and one seventh and eighth grade school), it may be easier to combine about 10 years down the line.
Sports served as a driving factor in the discussion. If the schools would merge, about $180,000 would be saved from cutting coaches, according to Neitzke. This money would stay within the athletic program. A concern about merging the sports programs is that there would be a significant amount of students no longer able to participate in their desired sport. One solution to this potential problem is the creation of an intramural system that would be put into effect for the 2016-17 school year.
“Why not let the community decide?”
– Judy Steffes
“You combine it into one school, I honestly don’t think we’re eliminating many kids. Participation is low in some sports as it is,” said Joel Hausmann, a community member. Basketball and swimming were cited as sports with small participation.
Other attendees explained their satisfaction with the sports system as it is currently.
“We have programs that are successful year after year,” Ron Larson said. The East volleyball team and the West track team, for example, have constantly given the school a good name. With certain teams proving themselves successful year after year, some community members believe the shift to one school for athletics would truly benefit only a handful of the teams.
Other residents seemed upset by the dominance of sports in this conversation. There was a concern expressed that academics did not serve as a large enough concern if the schools would combine.
With one school instead of two, scholarship donations would decrease by about $10,000, Neitzke said. Students who are very involved in extracurricular activities would have less of an opportunity, as there would be only one National Honor Society and one forensics team.
A number of attendees explained their disappointment in the fact that there will be no referendum held to make the decision.
“Why not let the community decide? This would be a great opportunity to let West Bend make a choice,” Judy Steffes said.
If the school would combine, WBHS would be the largest high school in Wisconsin. There would be roughly 2,300 students. This would require some serious alterations to the graduation process to ensure the inclusion of each student’s family members, Neitzke said.
Ever since the year 1970, this idea has raised questions in the community. Now it is 44 years later, and the school board determined on Aug. 11 that they will take a final vote. With so much pressure to make the right decision for the community, the board has scheduled feedback sessions to gather input from West Bend residents.
There will be a few more opportunities for community members to discuss their thoughts on the configuration of the high schools. Another feedback session will be held on Thursday, Sept. 25 at 7:30 a.m. at the Education Service Center. Monday, Sept. 29, will be the final feedback session, and it will be at Silverbrook Intermediate School at 6:30 p.m.
Residents may also take an online survey.
People are encouraged to attend the school board meeting on Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m. to give their opinions directly to the board. The meeting location has been changed to the Badger Middle School cafeteria. The final vote is scheduled to take place on Oct. 6.
(Edited to reflect the change in venue for the Sept. 22 school board meeting.)