What are your thoughts about asking voters to consider another referendum?
Tonnie Schmidt (incumbent)
The West Bend School District is very conservative. It is one of the reasons I choose to live here. I appreciate the need to be responsible with our spending and ensuring that responsibility is one of the reasons I sought to run for school board three years ago and it is still a reason why I chose to run for another term.
I am in alignment with those who want to maintain a low mill rate, but I also understand our district’s facilities need to be competitive with surrounding districts. It is absolutely possible to make our facilities safe and maintainable while keeping our mill rate the lowest in the area.
What I am not in alignment with are the people who want to defund public schools at the local level. That should be done at the state level. The people who seek to defund us are actually making our district weaker because we are not on a level playing field with our surrounding districts. I have always been in favor of Act 10. I appreciate competition in all forms. However, some people don’t acknowledge the unintended consequence of making districts compete with each other for teachers and students. We cannot starve our district and remain an attractive place for top performing teachers to work and families to want to live here. I am in favor of a responsible facilities referendum, but I will never support an operational referendum.
Joel Ongert (incumbent)
Before asking voters to consider a referendum, we have to have a well thought-out plan for all of our facilities. We have already begun the process of reviewing and updating our 25-year facilities plan and have increased the budget allocation for the annual capital improvement fund (which I have increased every year since I’ve been on the board). As a result of the increase to our capital improvement fund, the board was able to start a $1 million project to renovate and combine our high school libraries. We did this by cutting the operational budget in other areas, not by raising taxes.
The student enrollment in our district is declining, so we won’t need as much square footage or classroom space as we have right now in our district. Closing facilities have already been put in motion with the first being the Rolfs Education Center. The programming in that building will likely be moved to Silverbrook in the near future and the Rolfs building will be sold. The last referendum was asking for roughly $25 million in capital improvements to the high school building, which the Private Citizen Task Force agreed with. The Task Force also agreed that we need to do capital improvements to all three of the elementary school buildings they investigated (they did not investigate Green Tree or McLane). We have a lot of capital improvement projects that need to happen around the district, but we absolutely must have a well thought-out plan on what we are going to tackle and how to economically pay for it.
Nancy Justman (incumbent)
The problems with our aging facilities are not going away. We have been working proactively to address smaller projects (high school library) and immediate needs (roofing repairs at various buildings), but the bottom line is that we have aging facilities that are not able to keep up with current demands such as antiquated lighting and heating solutions. I completely agree that higher taxes are not what we want, but we need to ensure that our community continues to thrive. We want the greater West Bend community to be the chosen destination for families to live and therefore we must have attractive and high-functioning schools. Schools do not sell widgets, we produce the future. We must invest in our futures. Investing in education will allow for higher property values and a stronger community.
First, I think it’s way too soon. Second, considering that the school board has been taking the annual 2.5% tax-to-the-max increase; that we have two other referendums in the amount of about $32 million that we’re still paying for; and that we had a task force put together a plan that would not raise our taxes yet accommodate the needs of the school district, it should not be happening. Third, considering the economic downturn most people are currently experiencing due to COVID-19, now is definitely not the time to ask taxpayers to pay more taxes. Bottom line is that my property tax for the school district portion went up 7.4% in 2019. With the current school board, there never seems to be enough money.
Interviews by Current reporters Megan Landvatter and Noelle Mentch. Responses are listed in the order that the candidates will appear on the April 7 ballot.
Read more about the candidates at The Current, including their reasons for running, unique goals and experience with the West Bend School District.