On Election Day in November Franklin voters approved a school referendum. Earlier in the year the exact details of what voters would be deciding were unknown. Once that became clear the only question remaining was what the final margin of victory would be.
Lots of chapters in this story. Let’s go.
My thoughts on the inevitable Franklin referendum
Franklin residents/taxpayers were sent surveys about plans for another Franklin school referendum. The questionnaires were due by June 13.
Being a civic-minded individual, I had some views back in June on the latest campaign to persuade taxpayers to vote to increase their own taxes.
1) There will definitely be a referendum. No doubt about it. All arrows point that way. The only question is, how much will the handout ask for.
2) The Franklin School Board punts to residents. Rather than make any tough decisions they were elected to do, members will pose for holy pictures and use survey responses as rationale to put tax-increase question(s) on the ballot. Their spin will be that they listened and responded to the public.
3) There’s a reason three options are on the survey. That improves the odds of approval. Depending on survey results there could be more than one question put to voters. In 2012 three questions were on the ballot. Two were approved. The middle school question failed. The object is not to do what’s best, what’s feasible, what’s prudent, what’s necessary. The object is to win.
4) Sob stories. You’re going to hear them. And some of the hand-wringing may be legitimate with truly needed improvements. Franklin never stops at the “needs.”
5) We did it for the high school. The guilt trip factor. Four years ago Franklin voted to approve two referendum questions to make major changes to the high school. Many voters will be of a mindset that we can’t possibly turn our backs on the middle schoolers.
6) Convenient? Intentional? Couldn’t help but notice the price tag for building a brand new middle school is actually cheaper than one of the options calling for renovation. How many residents will fall for that?
7) Only this much. The same old argument will be trotted out that improvements will only hike your taxes by just a little bit. But that’s on top of the already exorbitant taxes we pay in Franklin.
A quote often attributed to the late US Senator Everett Dirksen is, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon it adds up to real money.” Dirksen said in an interview, “Oh, I never said that. A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it.” He was right. It sounds good because it’s true.
8) You’d better vote yes. Otherwise you will be tarred and feathered as hating kids and education.
9) I’d better not hear or read this one. Businesses choose to open or locate in communities with great schools. Right. If so,where are they?
10) WI has gone referendum-crazy. Back on April 5, a total of 56 communities held 71 referendums. School districts asked voters to approve nearly $700 million in borrowing for new construction and building updates, and more than $150 million in increases in school district budgets. Those requested amounts were the largest put before voters at the annual spring election going back at least a decade.
What happened? Voters approved 55 of the 71 referendums on the ballot, including $492 million in borrowing for building upgrades and construction projects, $128 million to expand school district budgets for a set amount of time, and $10 million to expand school budgets on a recurring basis.
The MacIver Institute noted in April:
If each of the school districts had voters approve their referendum requests, Wisconsinites would approve a huge $853,216,000 in new spending. That’s nearly one-fifth what Gov. Walker’s Act 10 saved Wisconsin taxpayers over 5 years.
If Wisconsinites wonder why Gov. Walker’s statewide tax reforms haven’t had more impact, taxpayers might want to check in with their local governments to see if officials are utilizing Gov. Walker’s money-saving tools. They might also ask why their local government needs to borrow money for important projects when some of them could be paid for by putting aside the savings from Act 10 and other reforms.
The survey results were announced
As I blogged:
The survey via paper and e-mail was conducted in May/June. The total number of responses was 2,357. That’s a measly 21%, further demonstrating the gigantic apathy that permeates Franklin.
On the question: Would you support the school district exploring a referendum to update Forest Park Middle School at this time.
This one’s not that simple to easily interpret. 86% of district staff, 73% of parents with school district children, 61% of all residents, and 445 of non-parent residents said yes. Careful now. These folks said yes to exploring a possible referendum. However, they may not necessarily support an affirmative vote on a referendum, probably because the question isn’t specific enough. They might support just letting voters have the opportunity to decide. It’s a hard call.
There were 3 options on the survey regarding the middle school.
Option 1 would add 86,000 square feet, renovate 29% of the school, and be a $26 million referendum representing an estimated annual tax impact of $21 for each $100,000 of a home’s value for each of the next 20 years. Option 1 by far is the cheapest of the referendum options given to residents.
51% of all residents said yes, 35% said no. That’s a very slight majority in favor.
71% of school district staff residents said yes. No surprise. This the group most likely to approve of taxing and spending. Only 15% of this group had the common sense to say no.
When you ask the parents, moms and dads with kids in the school district, again, the results are not surprising. They want the entire school district to help pay for improvements in Joey and Mary’s school.
62% said yes, only 25% said no. Not a surprise.
AND NOW WE GET TO THE CRITICAL GROUP: THE NON-PARENT RESIDENTS.
This is the important demographic group the pro-tax and spend referendum lovers (district staff and parents) must win over, must persuade in order to ensure victory at the polls.
Not good at all.
35% said yes. 50% said no.
A resounding defeat on Option 1.
Option 2 would add 155,500 square feet, renovate 83% of the school, and be a $49.3 million referendum representing an estimated annual tax impact of $92 for each $100,000 of a home’s value for each of the next 20 years. This is by far the most expensive option.
Only 28% of all residents said yes while a whopping 55% said no.
Staff support dropped dramatically here. 41% of school district staff residents said yes. 35% of this group said no. So you see a split among the group most likely to vote yes on a tax and spend question at the ballot.
When you ask the parents, moms and dads with kids in the school district, suddenly, they get leery. Only 39% said yes while 42% said no.
AND NOW WE GET TO THE CRITICAL GROUP: THE NON-PARENT RESIDENTS.
The doors get blown off. A piddly 12% said yes, 74% said no.
Option 3 would, get this, build a new two -story middle school with a $43.3 million referendum representing an estimated annual tax impact of $73 for each $100,000 of a home’s value for each of the next 20 years. This is the second-most expensive option, a middle of the road alternative that might appear more appealing.
49% of all residents said yes, 36% said no. A plurality in favor, not a majority.
Staff support is what you’d expect. 75% of school district staff residents said tax and spend away, yes. Only 14% said no. Again, no big surprise.
When you ask the parents, moms and dads with kids in the school district, 60% said yes while 24% said no. Nothing shocking there.
AND NOW WE GET TO THE CRITICAL GROUP: THE NON-PARENT RESIDENTS.
Only 33% said yes, 54% said no.
The group of non-parent residents, the group that school referendum supporters within school districts admit is the pivotal faction that needs to be won over is speaking clearly: no referendum on the middle school.
On option 1
35% said yes. 50% said no.
On option 2
12% said yes, 74% said no.
On option 3
33% said yes, 54% said no.
The results are clear. There is no consensus, mandate, clamoring, outpouring of support for a referendum or referendum questions on the middle school. If anything the electorate is opposed, skeptical, or at the very least undecided.
The Franklin School Board needs to understand and respond accordingly. Will they? Who knows? This weak bunch erroneously believes they work for the superintendent instead of the other way around.
Something for voters to keep in mind, I blogged in mid-July
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the organization that religiously follows and keeps track of tax and spending in our state just reported that Wisconsin continues to spend more per pupil on K-12 education than the national average, 1.6% in 2014. Wisconsin’s per pupil spending remained well above the national average from 2002 to 2007, just prior to the Great Recession. Overall, during the 2008-12 period, spending both here and nationally increased by the same rate—3.4%.
Here’s an incredible stat.
In 2011, before the changes of Act 10 took place, employee benefits as a share of per pupil spending in Wisconsin were 51.9% higher than the national average. By 2014, that difference had dropped to 11.6%.
So, we continue to spend more in WI on schools than the nation as a whole. But Franklin will increase spending in their upcoming budget. They will then ask voters to increase taxes through a referendum that will pass because the school district has hypnotized folks into thinking it must be done or the world will end. And to top it off the state will send additional school aid to many, if not most school districts.
And yet that won’t be good enough for greedy, ungrateful school administrators and school boards.
Like fish in a barrel
As expected the School Board voted unanimously (not one member voted no) to go with building a brand new middle school and putting that option to the voters.
The propaganda by the school administration was working.
Comments left on FranklinNOW:
Why would you choose any other option than option 3?? There will be a brand new building for $6m less than adding on and renovating…
looking at costs, building a new school makes the most sense LONG TERM. Why update a school and incur more costs 10 years down the road??
One resident went on the Franklin School District’s website to express the lamest excuse why a referendum was needed:
The cafeteria is too small to meet the needs of the current student population, resulting in students waiting extended times in serving lines during their lunch period.
Those poor babies
The school administration wasn’t fooling everybody. Franklin Planning Commissioner
Scott Thinnes wrote this comment on one of my blogs:
Again, a bad decision made years ago by whoever thought the hub-spoke-pod school design was a good idea in the first place. These buildings are more expensive to build, maintain, and operate because they have 3-4 times the perimeter exterior wall area and foundation footprint, they take up more land space, and are very difficult to expand economically, usually requiring many small expansion areas located between the various pods. Again, expensive for what you get, and the added layout and function makes less and less sense relative to the initial design.
One thing Franklin is good at… making decisions and not realizing how bad those decisions are until they are 3/4 of the way down the road. Do you think if a new middle school is built that site placement and building design will be done with thoughts of future expansion needs? I’m not going to hold my breath.
A few months later…
October: School districts like Franklin are breaking state law
Wisconsin law prohibits school districts from lobbying for positive votes for a school referendum.
School districts like Franklin get around the law by neglecting to use the words, “Vote Yes” in all their referendum communications. In all their communications they come as close as possible to urging a YES vote without using their actual terminology VOTE YES.
They think they’re slick, but they’re violating state law.
Recently I received a flyer in the mail with the Franklin Saber colors telling everything why the school district thought a YES vote was necessary without actually using the words VOTE YES.
Do they think we’re stupid? Yes they do.
They have actually spent taxpayer money to try to persuade a YES vote.
In June I asked Franklin School Board President Janet Evans how much it cost to send out surveys on the referendum that clearly were designed to find the most favorable results. Here’s what she wrote:
Dear Mr. Fischer,
Below are the costs for the survey to gather community input regarding the possibility of moving forward with the next phase of the District’s Facilities Master Plan, which addresses Forest Park Middle School.
The cost of printing the surveys was $3,510 and the cost of creating the survey, administering the survey online as well as paper copies, and providing the results was $9,800.
Janet M. Evans
Franklin Board of Education, President
“In no way have we gone out there to try to sway voters,” said Patz. “Our intent, which I believe we followed, is to communicate why we’re going to referendum, and that’s it.”
That’s downright laughable. And insulting.
Anyone who reads the school district propaganda about the referendum can plainly see that it is obviously promoting and seeking a YES vote. Such a practice is in violation of state law, though nothing will come of it.
But please. Let’s not try to publicly mislead the voters. The referendum may, indeed, pass. But everyone knows school district folks are the referendum’s biggest cheerleaders.
—October 27, 2016
Why would I and many others vote NO? One of the biggest, if not the biggest reasons:
“Research has found little relationship between school funding levels and student performance.”
Will Flanders, education research director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty
As predicted the Franklin referendum to build a brand new middle school passed. Despite skepticism expressed in surveys by Franklin residents the Franklin Public School District intelligentsia got its forces out and persuaded (fooled) enough people for a slim margin of victory.
YES: 7,804 (52.03%)
NO: 7,196 (47.97%)
Interesting note: one-fourth of the people who cast ballots did NOT vote one way or the other on the referendum question.
Didn’t know enough about it?
From one of my very, very sharp readers, sent about a week before the election:
“Kevin, I didn’t realize that Franklin is in the middle of a referendum – it shows how low profile they are keeping it to focus the vote on yes.”
“The $43.3 million referendum represents a tax increase of 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.”
But that’s on top of the already too-high school taxes, already too-high city taxes, Milwaukee County taxes, MATC taxes, sewerage district taxes, and state tax for forestry purposes.
Franklin and other school districts in our region of the state have engaged in law-breaking tactics to push referendums. WISN’s Mark Belling has talked and written about the issue:
Check any of the following school referendum websites: Arrowhead, Cudahy, Elkhorn, Franklin, Middleton, Germantown, Oconomowoc, Sheboygan or Sheboygan Falls. Some have the same format and are laid out in the same way. That’s right — they all hired the same company to sleaze their way around the state law that bars direct advocacy. The website design appears to be the work of an Ohio-based company called “SchoolPointe” but it’s unclear if that firm designed the actual format for all of the pro-referendum sites. What is clear is that every single school district in our region that I checked has a pro-referendum website designed the same.
This is not a coincidence.
Likewise, every single school district in this area with a referendum hired the same firm to conduct a biased survey earlier in the year aimed at persuading people there is a need for a referendum.
A final note from the MacIver Institute:
10. Referendum Voters Around the State Increase Their Own Taxes
Our #10 most under-reported story of 2016 is the increase in the number of referendums where voters are increasingly approving local spending increases and essentially raising their own property taxes.
For example, of the 71 referendums on the April 5 ballot, voters approved 55 of them, giving school districts a total of $630.6 million in new spending power. Voters rejected only 16 referendums, a 77 percent passage rate – keeping with recent trends.
A MacIver Institute analysis also found that referendums held during Gov. Walker’s administration have increased in number, decreased in price tag, and have been far more likely to pass.
Legislators were concerned some school districts were up to no good by holding referendums on low turnout elections or placing them on the ballot during consecutive elections until they finally pass. The author of one piece of legislation intended to limit such tactics, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville), considers these to be dirty tricks intended to bypass the will of a majority of voters, particularly if a referendum initially fails.
* The MacIver Institute also reported of the 67 referendums held by school districts in Wisconsin in November, only 12 failed. Overall, Wisconsin voters approved $803.83 million in new borrowing for capital improvements at an average of more than $23,642,000.
That despite the conservative gains in the state.The referendum approvals only serve to waste the savings afforded by the passage of Act 10.|
UPDATE: We should also add…
COMING NEXT: Our #1 that will be reported in two parts.
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2016
2) FRANKLIN APPROVES SCHOOL REFERENDUM
3) ONE IKEA = TWO FRANKLINS
5) FRANKLIN’S BARN
6) FRANKLIN’S MAGICAL FOOTBALL SEASON FINISHES A BIT SHORT
8) IS FRANKLIN STILL A TAX HELL?
9) APARTMENTS IN FRANKLIN
10) BOMB THREAT AT FHS