On a couple of occasions in 2022 veteran Franklin school board member Linda Witkowski tried to instill some good old-fashioned common sense into her colleagues. Didn’t work.
Franklin High School’s graduation ceremony scheduled back in June once again was held at American Family Field, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. The commencement has been at the stadium the past couple of years as opposed to the Milwaukee County Sports Complex in Franklin where it’s been staged for a long time.
The June 2021 graduation was the subject of discussion at a Franklin School Board meeting on July 14, 2021. Outgoing Franklin School District Administrator Judy Mueller said response to the American Family Field site was positive and recommended the stadium be used again. School board member Angela Bier said every anecdotal comment she heard from a family was supportive. School Board President Mike Spragg agreed.
That’s when school board member Linda Witkowski interjected.
“There’s a policy element to this,” Witkowski said.
“Where should graduation in Franklin be? I think Franklin High School graduation should be in Franklin. We value our community so why would we take this important event somewhere else? Just like 420 other districts around the state of Wisconsin including all our suburban districts except for Oak Creek do it in their own spaces, in their own stadiums. I hear us thinking Oak Creek does it, that must make it okay.”
Bier asked Witkowski what the Franklin school district was losing by moving graduation to the Brewers’ stadium.
“I can’t think of any justification for any district having it outside their community except for a pandemic,” Witkowski responded.
“I mean we’re taken to a baseball stadium that seats 45,000 and we’re bringing 3,000 people there it seems over the top,” Witkowski continued.
“Before we make the stadium our new normal let’s think about what we want Franklin’s graduation to be. I would offer number one, it should be Franklin. It should be in person. Not on a big screen, not looking through a screen at all. And it should be under our control. Our schedule. Our ceremony. Our band playing and our choir singing.”
And what about the cost?
“It’s $27,000 to go to American Family Field. We’re committing as a district $27,000 to go to the stadium,” said Witkowski.
Mueller noted the Sports Complex has limitations, seating on bleachers, and no air conditioning. Poor parking was also brought up during the discussion.
Board member Ann Sepersky said the graduates thought it was amazing to walk on the same field as the Brewers and see pictures on the jumbotron. Bier agreed, saying “That’s the reality of our youth,” raising the eyebrows of Witkowski.
“We’re going to settle for that?” Witkowski said.
Spragg replied, “It’s their graduation.” What a silly comment to say the least. They don’t run the operation, Mr. Spragg. You and your colleagues do.
Witkowski shot back.
“I don’t want to see increased costs. Think about this. What about legislators who see us doing this. Legislators drive by, ‘oh there’s another graduation (at the stadium). They don’t need any money.’”
“This is a small price to pay as a district” said board member Maqsood Khan
“Small price? $27,000 for three hours?” a stunned Witkowski replied.
Whether or not to return to American Family Field was not what the board considered an ‘action item” meaning it could be voted up or down by the board. Witkowski said it should have been. What about Franklin Field, ballpark of the Milwaukee Milkmen?
A school board member informed me graduation at Franklin Field was considered at one time. But according to the board member weather, most specifically rain was an issue.
I’m not privy to specifics regarding any discussions between the school district and Franklin Field management. Still I have to wonder how serious the district was in pursuing or considering Franklin Field, and why the district would opt for what certainly was the larger sticker price at American Family Field. My guess is a more favorable offer may have been presented by Franklin Field, or could have been negotiated, if the district was truly interested.
This whole business that the graduates last year were awestruck. Well of course they were! If we’re going to compare the Sports Complex to American Family Filed, the allure of a major league ballpark will win every time.
I concur with Witkowski. But unfortunately her arguments were based on:
1) Common sense
2) Fiscal responsibility
Both concepts are foreign to the administration of the Franklin school district.
UPDATE: ON A FRANKLIN FB PAGE EM ALPHABET WROTE:
This school board does not act by its stated mission, does not aim to foster bridges in this community nor instill hometown pride in its students; this school board does not lead by example nor follow its stated mission.
Graduation expenditures and venue selection impacts our entire city not just the graduates or their families. The word community is often repeated on the district website. Each board member – while campaigning – told us about his or her service to this community. There are many events where the community is invited into the school. When does the board, district, or a school step out to help Franklin? Graduation provides an opportunity for that. I believe it is elitist and ostentatious to host graduation in the just-too-big-for-our-school Family Field in the City of Milwaukee; choosing a venue for FHS graduation outside of Franklin is purely anti-Franklin. Does the school board’s selection set an example for our students that our community, our quality of life, isn’t enough; the grass is greener over there, be more like them? Has the board considered the economic impact of its decision on local businesses, on local restaurants? The decision to hold FHS graduations outside of Franklin opportunistically robs our community of its tax dollars [in renting Family Field], by taking them out of this community and spending them elsewhere. This pandemic made many local small businesses financially vulnerable, and they have been and continue to be robbed by this school district’s decision as well. How many families followed the district’s example (it’s better outside of Franklin) and patronized a proximal business – a Milwaukee restaurant – taking even more revenue out of our Franklin community. Board members have said “it’s not much” [out of the people’s purse, our property taxes] but I disagree. This poor decision affects us all. This decision directly affects all of our neighbors’ quality of life. The School Board has the opportunity to support the people and businesses in Franklin. The value they place on this community is reflected in their selection of a graduation venue.
Next time you vote: Please consider building a bridge out, from the district into this city. Please choose board members that lead by example and support Franklin, our community. The graduation venue location should fall within Franklin city limits and align with the district goals and mission.
MY THOUGHT: Excellent!
On June 11, 2022…
Then in October of 2022, another Witkowski effort to get fellow board members to do what’s right.
When you received your city of Franklin property tax bill in the mail it included a pie chart that informed the largest portion of the total Franklin bill by far goes to the Franklin school district: a whopping 40.4 %. Coming in a distant 2nd was the city of Franklin at 24.8%.
When the school board met in October to determine the school budget for next year Witkowski offered a budget amendment to freeze the taxy from last year so there’d be NO school property tax increase.
How did Witkowski propose coming up with a 0% levy increase?
The school district would reduce the tax levy by $1.1 million and increase use of debt service by the same amount. There would be no increase in last year’s school property tax levy.
Witkowski submitted the tax freeze would have essentially no impact on district ooperations.
The other board members were stunned. Shocked. Flabbergasted.
It was as if they were thinking but not saying…
‘Did she just say what I thought she said?”
‘We can’t do that.’
‘That is crazy.’
Member Alan Aleksandrowicz incredulously wondered out loud, on the record, I kid you not, if discussion to freeze taxes was because problems peple are having are due to inflation.
Well, it’s like this Alan and it’s really not that difficult.
Member Debra Larson reacted to Witkowski’s idea.
“This is a very hard time for people. If we can keep the levy flat and we have the ability to do that, we should do that to our citizens. I hear from young families, young people who are our clients, they want to move to Franklin, they want their children educated in Franklin, but they can’t…they take a look at the taxes on the homes and they can’t move to Franklin because of the taxes because they then look at their monthly mortgage and they’re saying we can’t afford all of that.”
Normally subdued School Board President Mike Spragg briefly scolded Witkowski for using the word “he” and “they,” a demonstration of where his priorities are. For a few seconds Spragg actually appeared a notch or two above lifeless.
Witkowski’s amendment to make budget modifications to create a tax freeze failed 6-1.
Just a few minutes after Larson who I find to be rather reasonable argued “ If we can keep the levy flat and we have the ability to do that, we should do that to our citizens,” she voted against doing just that. It was, to me, deeply disappointing and surprising given her statement about Witkowski’s amendment and the economic challenges of residents.
In the end the board voted 6-1 in favor of a budget witha 3.3% tax increase that you can see on the insert under the pie chart in your tax bill.
Witkowski in October said, “This is a 3.3% increase. We’ve never seen that before.”
We have now.
Kudos to Witkowski for her common sense moves in 2022, a rarity on the Franklin school board.
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