Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

Weigh in on Elmbrook's budget, 4K & school closings this week & next - Clarification

4-K, Education, Elmbrook, TAXES

Clarification: Additional thoughts are noted in *blue with asterisks* .

In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Elmbrook School District did some serious rearranging and closing of schools and proposed numerous building referendums.

Several smaller elementary schools were closed, such as Linfield Elementary, our area's neighborhood school. Swanson School was remodeled and expanded in 1996. Elmbrook also proposed and succeeded in razing Brookfield Elementary and Dixon Elementary to make way for 2 much larger elementary schools at the same sites. (Had the Swanson Swap of 2004 gone through, we would have built the largest elementary school of all! We also overdid it on our 2 newly renovated and expanded high schools; we built 'em bigger and better, but we didn't really need the capacity.)

The school boards, at the time, abandoned the concept of the neighborhood school model in favor of the mega elementary school. Those opposed to building bigger schools cited declining enrollment as one reason for not going ahead with enlarging our school capacity. But the community eventually gave in and approved the building referendums without thinking ahead.

So now we have a 4 very large elementary schools: Burleigh, Swanson, Brookfield El. and Dixon, in addition to 2 smaller ones: Tonawanda and Hillside.

Today we are faced with the problem that was forecast so long ago: TOO MUCH SPACE for TOO FEW STUDENTS. Translation: Too much expensive excess capacity.

We have to bridge the millions of dollars budget gap, but what do we do about it?

The special Enrollment Management Study Team's (EMAT) recommendation was that we add 4-K, add more non-resident students, and close 1 elementary school. I say no to the first two suggestions and yes to the last.

 *I also think we should close the Central Office building. Possibly the offices could be incorporated into one of the larger grade schools, thus in effect making that school's capacity smaller? That in essence would close 2 elementary schools.*

The following is from an email being circulated in the Elmbrook district by Jerry Theder, a member of the EMAT and also member of the Referendum Committee. Since he brings up many of the same points I would have  *regarding excess building capacity* and has done such an excellent job presenting them, I am referring you to his letter *on that subject*:

"Subject: Elmbrook School District Spending

The Elmbrook Board of Education is deliberating a number of alternatives to correct a $50 million deficit over the next five years. The administration and board formed a number of committees to help solve this problem and those committees are making their recommendations to reduce expenses.

One committee, of which I was a part, the Enrollment Management Study Team (EMST) has recommended that one elementary school be closed, more non-resident students be added and a 4K program be started. I did not agree with these recommendations and do not support them for these reasons:
I would also add that Elmbrook still includes a small section of New Berlin students in our district. This was a carryover from when Lindfield was closer to these students than their own Orchard Lane School on South Sunnyslope. Lindfield has been closed for over 20 years now, so why are we still paying to educate these students?

  • The EMST did not study the issue of how much elementary school capacity is required for resident students.
  • The addition of more non-resident students increases costs.
  • The addition of a 4K program increases costs.

None of these committees have attacked the critical problems, and consequently the forecasts-to-date, while worthwhile, do not affect the deficit in a substantial way.

The two most important issues that are driving the district into deficit spending are:
a) inflated employee compensation
b) huge excess capacity

Inflated employee compensation in the district is largely the result of ineffective negotiations over a long period, along with a legal environment that makes it difficult, but not impossible, for the board to maintain total compensation at levels that are comparable to similar non-governmental occupations.

Excess District capacity is an issue that the board appears unwilling to address. For the record, in year 2010-2011 enrollment will be 6165. In addition there will be 800+ Non-resident students.

Teaching those 800+ non-residents means the district employs 33 more full time teachers, plus substitute teachers, aides, principals, assistant principals and other various administrative personnel. That equates to more than $4.2 million annually, or $21 million (of the $50 million deficit in five years) of spending that could be eliminated. It also means that there are more school buildings in the district than are required. These excess buildings are like big money-pits. They require money for curriculum and program additions, utilities, maintenance, regular wear and tear replacement, capital asset maintenance and replacement and on and on.

How many excess buildings are tax payers financing? A simple analysis, based on the number of students results in four (4). These include three (3) elementary schools and one (1) administrative building on Hope Street. The district is keeping open four (4) more buildings than are required to educate the resident students of this district.

Get involved before it's too late. Listening Sessions to get your input are scheduled for:
Tuesday, September 21 at 6pm: Burleigh Elementary & 8pm: Brookfield Elementary
Wednesday, September 22 at 6pm: Hillside Elementary & 8pm: Dixon Elementary
Thursday, September 23 at 6pm: Swanson Elementary & Tonawanda Elementary

Other opportunities to get your opinion to the board include: a regular board meeting on September 14, at 6:00 PM and the Annual meeting on September 27 at 6:00 PM.

The board and administration need to hear from you that deficit spending and accompanying unnecessary taxes will not be tolerated.

Come, join me in this campaign for fiscal common-sense
J. J. Theder 

I would also add that Elmbrook still includes a small section of New Berlin students in our district. This was a carryover from when Lindfield was closer to these students than their own Orchard Lane School on South Sunnyslope. Lindfield has been closed for over 20 years now, so why are we still paying to educate these students?

Go to the listening sessions and board meetings at the Central Office if you can. Contact the board members about this. Come to the Annual Meeting at 6pm on September 27th.

*Mr. Theder goes farther than I would in that he favors closing 3 elementary schools plus the offices. I do think now is the time to really look at the whole picture. It is a shame that we didn't look at moving the 6th graders back down to the elementary schools and shifting the 9th grade down to the middle school before we embarked on the $62 million high school referendum. But we didn't.*

Past post: Referendum history from Bob Borch
Posts regarding 4-K


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