Wisconsin

Retired Principal Again Accuses District of Misleading Public in Referendum Bid

Policy

A retired high school principal continues to challenge the Green Bay school district on the case it’s building for a fifth high school and other district projects. As Media Trackers reported in October, former Green Bay East High principal Terry Fondow accused the district of using inflated enrollment numbers to make the case for passage of an anticipated referendum in April.

While Fondow concedes  that there is a facilities need at the elementary level, he argues that the district is fabricating the case for a new far east side  high school in an effort to better compete with suburban districts that are gaining Green Bay students through Wisconsin’s public school open enrollment program. As Fondow predicted, the fifth high school was included in a task force’s recommendations for facilities improvements. A consultant this week also recommended to the school board renovations to all four existing high schools

The consultant also suggested options for addressing capacity needs at other elementary schools and  Edison Middle School. The optioins include expanding Eisenhower and Martin elementary schools at a cost of $7.2 million each, expanding Edison for $1.2 million or building a new K-8 school for $45 million, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Fondow, as he did in October, accuses the district of using misleading data:

Secondary schools have a “target” enrollment number that is 85% of the actual design capacity of the building.  At target capacity, it is relatively easy to create a master schedule for classes.  As enrollment exceeds the target, it becomes more challenging to create the master schedule, but it still can be done without affecting student achievement.  When studying secondary facilities, both the target and maximum capacity numbers should be used to provide a complete picture.

Back to what the district is not telling the public about middle school enrollment.  First, Edison is 154 students below the maximum capacity.  Second, all of the other middle schools are below targeted capacity by a total of 767 students (Franklin = 371, Lombardi = 248; Washington = 84; Red Smith = 52; Leonardo da Vinci = 49; Aldo = 8).  Total middle school enrollment is currently 1600 students under maximum capacity.  Furthermore, using the district’s own projections for the next 7 years, middle school enrollment will be 500 under target and 1400 under the maximum.  There is no need for an additional middle school building.

Fondow makes a similar case with a proposed new high school:

“For the high schools, Preble is 207 over the target number, but it is 119 below the maximum number and it is projected to grow by fewer than 200 students over the next 7 years.  All of the other high schools are a total of 950 below the target (East – 127; Southwest = 396; West = 427).  The high schools are collectively 1845 below the maximum.  In addition, last year there were 1000 fewer high school students in the district than in 06/07 when the district wisely rejected the ill-advised attempt to build a fifth high school.  For the next 7 years, high school enrollment will remain around 100 below target and 1100 below max and still be at least 600 students less than in 06/07.  In 06/07, high school enrollment was around 400 above target and student achievement was not affected.”

So, it is Fondow’s contention that news stories claiming any Green Bay secondary schools are “filled to capacity” are, in essence, the product of deceptive numbers the district is using to make the case for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new or renovated facilities.  As for the renovating the existing four high schools, Fondow points out all four had work done to them in 2003:

“The district spent nearly 90 million renovating all four high schools in a project that ended in 2003.  Now, only 13 years later, there is a proposal to spend nearly 19 million more.  I took a detailed look at the East proposal.  There is not a single item that I consider to be necessary.  First, the consultant proposes swapping the location of the art and technology lab spaces.  The technology lab was intentionally put in the new wing and the art lab was intentionally located in the old machine shop following the recommendations of the consultant and architect in the last renovation that was completed 13 years ago.

Second, the consultant proposes converting four perfectly good classrooms into storage and dressing rooms for the drama department.  Spaces for storage and dressing rooms were included in the last renovation.  Third, there is a proposal for a 5000 sq ft addition for PE storage.  Again, the PE spaces, including storage, were included in the last two renovations. The PE spaces at East include 2 gyms, a weight room, a fitness room, a classroom and adequate storage.

At West, there is a proposal for an addition for a community room.  Community rooms were provided in every high school in the last renovation.  The consultant recommends reconfiguring all of the libraries that were remodeled, or build new in the last renovation .

What you see here is the common referendum strategy of something for everyone in every attendance area to maximize support for the referendum.  This is an egregious example of disregard for efficient use of public money and public facilities.  But, when your hire an architect, are you really surprised when you are told you need to build or renovate?”

Fondow says for the middle and high schools the district has an attendance boundary problem, not a facilities problem. He says the district can afford to build unnecessary secondary schools because the cost is amortized and exempt from revenue limits, but the district won’t be able to operate the additional schools without passing a referendum to exceed the revenue limits for operating expenses, or reducing the operating budgets for the existing schools, or a combination of the two.

The board is slated to meet at least three times before a resolution would have to be filed by Jan. 24 to put a referendum on the spring ballot. Even though he is retired and living in Merill, Fondow considers it his civic duty to use his expertise to share with the public he claims the school district isn’t. You can expect him to  be engaged throughout the process leading up to an expected referendum.

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