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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

THE TOP TEN FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2011: #4

THE TOP TEN FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2011


In Franklin it’s 2007 all over again. Plans are already firmly in place by the Franklin Public School administration to tap into your wallets big time via referendum. They’ve been plotting strategy since the end of 2009, trying to devise a scheme whereby you part with your hard-earned tax dollars in the name of new or upgraded facilities. The strategy includes partnering with what is regarded to be the most expensive architect in the state to produce and then sell an unnecessary proposal during what is the worst of economic times. Will Franklin voters vote to give themselves a huge property tax increase? Let’s examine some of the issues surrounding the school administration’s plot.


SOB STORIES

To get into your purse strings, they’ll have to tug at your heartstrings. In other words, they hope to play on your emotions by claiming a recent rash of surveys mandates you help finance new construction. Prepare for the crying towels followed by innumerable mentions of, “It’s for the children.”

This website, FranklinNOW already began serving as a drum-beating cheerleader for the cause. Reporter Rick Romano blazed the trail in an article that somehow failed to contain any quote from anyone who might remotely have an opposing view. That would be too much like journalism. Some of what Romano writes is ludicrously funny.

You could just sense Romano walking alongside Franklin High School Principal Mike Cady like a lapdog, soaking up every unchallenged quote like this one:

“This has been a district that has been well-managed financially.”

If by “well-managed financially” Cady means taxed to the max and then some each and every year, that would be true.

Superintendent Steve Patz told Romano, “We do know that our needs are mostly from the middle school level through the high school."

Scary. Why? I don’t trust most school officials to know the difference between “needs” and “wants.”

Architect Bob Vaigrt is also quoted, saying, “The way we see it is that interest rates are really low, there may be favorable government financing programs available and a lot of companies in the construction industry are looking for work. With all of those factors, this may not necessarily be a bad time to do these projects."

Translation/spin: Do it now, Franklin, and do it fast before the costs go up.

Of course, if you disagree, you are anti-child, anti-education, anti-Franklin, anti- America, anti-God.

It’s bad enough FranklinNOW published an incredibly one-sided puff piece. It then tried to reinforce the issue with pictures.

Check out this photo with the caption used by FranklinNOW:
 



With Franklin High School near capacity, major hallways are packed during class- change times.

I don’t know. See anything unusual there? Appears to be a typical high school hallway between classes. I see no need to rush to referendum.





Fashion students begin rehearsal for a Nov. 10 fashion show in the Franklin High School's multi-purpose room, one of the few large assembly areas in the building and the only stage for performances.

Utterly disgraceful. No space to prepare for fashion shows. How will these students ever recover from the shock.




The boys locker room is small and the storage areas are in poor condition at Franklin High School.

Excuse me, but could you tell me again how the football, baseball, and basketball teams have been doing the last several years?





Franklin High School's weight room shares space with an auxiliary gym and a second room with a wall removed.

See previous question.




Gail DeClark works with senior Nick Schott before the start of Television Production 2 class. Limited space for this class and others has forced the school to limit sections for a number of classes.

Television production class? When I went to high school we didn’t even have a TV in the whole building. What’s the problem here? Everyone seems to have a place to sit.

Hmmm. Maybe it's just me but I find it odd there's no mention or photo of concern about academics. Strange.


ENROLLMENT

First came the surveys. What building improvements would you like to see in the Franklin Public Schools? The answers are going to be turned into a referendum

Now comes the hyperbole. If we don’t pass the referendum and make radical, expensive upgrades, students will go hungry, programs will be cut, the sports teams won’t win any games, morale and self-esteem will deteriorate, kids will stumble into each other in the hallways, and my personal favorite, an oldie but a goodie, we’ll have to put up trailers.

The out of control spin machine will most cetainly use this key word as part of their argument in support of a property tax increase (referendum)...GROWTH.

"We have seen a growth in enrollment to where we are about at capacity and we have a number of needs.”

That gem comes from Franklin High Principal Michael Cady. Next, Superintendent Steve Patz.

"We have been experiencing a little bit of growth in Franklin. We know that eventually the growth will increase once the economy continues to improve. We may have to do this in phases.”

Growth. To the point that it warrants a self-imposed tax increase, I’m sorry…referendum. And maybe, according to Patz, more than one.

Really? So much growth Franklin can’t handle it?

Here are enrollment figures from the Franklin Public School district's own website showing the growth in the Franklin Public Schools since 1995. You tell me if the growth is soooooo explosive that it calls for massive tax increases. 


SPIN

It appears the Franklin Public Schools intelligentsia, a la ostriches at the zoo, hasn’t learned their lesson from the previous 2007 referenda that bombed, despite every trick, legal or not, used by the school district. Both questions that year lost 60-40.

“Not to worry” is the mentality of the current Jesse James regime at FPS. We’ll get ‘em this time. We won’t fail like we did in the past. We messed up in 2007 because of “ineffective communications.”


In other words, they just didn’t spin those collossal referenda just right.  Couldn’t fool those taxpayers that shouldn’t be as smart as they are.

The future referendum cheerleaders think if they go back to the drawing board and do a better job this time around, they can pull the wool over the taxpayers’ eyes because after all, Franklin taxpayers have historically just taken the over-taxation abuse over and over and over and over and over again. OK, so we messed up last time. If we dress this up with enough sob stories, we can reel those suckers in.

As we all know, Franklin schools have failed miserably since the cataclysmic failure of the last referenda. Test scores have plummeted. The athletic teams are a joke. Buildings are literally crumbling. And trailers have had to be brought in to house students.

Now if we only had done a better used car sales job, damn it, we could have won in 2007.

In December of 2007, the failed $78-million referenda was my #2 Franklin story of the year. Failed spin? Ineffective communication? At the time, I blogged the following:

So what happened? Why did the referenda fail so miserably? There were many factors that contributed to the referenda defeat I wrote about shortly after Election Day:

1) Sticker shock. The $78-million price tag was simply too high.

2) No guarantees. The school district could not convince voters that spending $78-million would automatically result in dramatic improvement in student achievement.

3) Empty promises. At their own informational meetings, school officials admitted that even if the referenda were approved, class sizes might not get smaller.

4) Blank check. The school district had no plans, no drawings of what the new high school would look like, and no site for the new school.

5) Timing. Property owners just paid their bills a few months ago. Wisconsin taxes are among the highest in the nation. This was not the time to ask for a massive property tax increase.

6) Needs vs. wants. The school district needed a Buick, but asked for a Rolls Royce.

7) Attitude. It’s never good to insult the voters. They saw right through the arrogant, “But you just don’t understand, let me try to explain it to you” approach.

8) Bad omen I. Two School Board members chose not to seek re-election.

9) Bad omen II. The main cheerleader for the referenda, the school superintendent, comes out of a closed door meeting wit the School Board and says he’s resigning.

10) The public trust. Add #’s 8 and 9, and your credibility with the public is eroding.

11) Bad PR. Someone puts fliers promoting the referenda in City Hall. It came to our attention, the fliers were removed immediately for obvious reasons.

12) More bad PR. The Friday before the election, Franklin High School seniors of voting age are sent to an Assembly on school time, and are drilled about the importance of voting, “yes.” WTMJ-AM reported it, and just days before the election, supporters look disorganized and desperate.

13) Major miscalculation. Supporters thought they could go to the voters, play the guilt card, proclaim “it’s for the children,” and ask for the moon. Thinking the tax revolt was dead, they underestimated the anger of the taxpayers, who sent a loud and clear message at the polls.

There were many reasons to vote NO, but I’ll bet most of the NO voters never got beyond reason #1….the sticker shock.

The obvious question now is, what happens next? If I were on the Franklin School Board or the new superintendent, whoever he or she is, I’d display tremendous respect for the voters and exhibit a lot of restraint. You came, you asked, you were dumped. It would behoove the powers that be to put their hat away for awhile before they go back to the voters to pass it around again.

In an issue of Wisconsin School News put out by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards around the time of the election, Tom Joynt of the Administrative Leadership Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wrote about successful referendum strategies. The basis of his article is a 20-question survey that was mailed to the superintendents in all 70 school districts that had a successful referendum in 2005 or 2006. Forty-four completed surveys were returned, a response rate of 63 percent.

The survey was split into two sections: “Deciding to Hold a Referendum,” and “Strategies Used after a Decision Was Made to Hold a Referendum.”

In the “Deciding” section, the lowest-rated item was asking for student input on needs that were finally included in the final referendum. More weight was given to community input and opinions from staff.

After the decision was made to hold a referendum, there was a strong consensus to provide special information to parents and the media. I’m sure the Franklin School District got the word out to parents, but I can’t speak about their efforts to feed the news media. While the referenda garnered the obvious attention on this web site and in the community newspaper, it barely got a whimper in the Journal/Sentinel. To be fair, the Elmbrook referenda may have overshadowed our slightly smaller ballot questions. But it appears the school district needs to make major improvements in the media relations department.

The Wisconsin School News survey also generated strong support for providing district residents with estimates of the tax impact of a referendum. Here, I believe the Franklin School District dropped the ball. It chose to concentrate on the owner of a $250-thousand home. The less expensive homeowner, according to supporters would only pay what they considered a small tax increase. In embracing that approach, the supporters never told the whole story that included Wisconsin’s outrageous tax climate. The argument that if you had a three-car garage and a huge front lawn that you surely could plunk down even more in taxes didn’t draw guilt………it made voters upset.

Another survey idea that received a high endorsement if you wanted to have a successful referendum was to send a brochure to all community residents explaining all accurate details. Maybe Franklin officials thought they could save money by holding meetings, producing a video, and using the Internet. I never received one piece of propaganda. Many people I spoke with also got nothing in their mailbox. Again, a possible strategy that never made it into the Franklin playbook, and we all know what happened.

The survey respondents also highly recommended holding public forums. Now this, the school district did dozens of times. I can only surmise that whatever message that was disseminated at these public forums failed to resonate with those in attendance.

The personal comments on the survey are very, very interesting.

The superintendent in Oakfield, Joe Heinzelman warned, “Make sure you follow through on what you say will happen if a referendum fails.” The author of the article Tom Joynt writes, “Empty hyperbole and overstated claims before a referendum will haunt public officials for many years.” In Racine not too long ago, it was the threat of eliminating all high school athletics. (It never happened). In Franklin, the threat was that trailers would have to be installed. Did they mean it?

According to Joynt’s article, Sue Alexander, superintendent of Markesan “felt unity of the school board in supporting a referendum is significant.” Interesting. In Franklin, right before the election campaign, two incumbent school board members chose not to run. Three school board seats were filled on April 3 with all three candidates running unopposed, two of them opposed to the referenda.

Jamie Benson, superintendent in River Valley said the community-driven “yes” group was the “number one key to passing.” The NO vote had absolutely no organization. The YES vote did have an organized group, albeit it got in the game late and its effectiveness is highly questionable. Why wasn’t there a stronger organized COMMUNITY voice? That’s clear. The community never got behind this effort.

Superintendent David Wessel of Spencer offered this advice: “make sure you ask for enough,” but he also added, “don’t go overboard.”

And finally, Joynt writes, and this is where Franklin school officials need to listen up, that there were “cautions to school leaders not to take the outcome of a referendum personally, but to view the results as the voice of the people participating in democracy. One respondent observed, “It is really the responsibility of the community to decide what type of schools they want in their community.”

Franklin, you were not alone in your sentiment on referenda.

From the Green Bay Press Gazette:

All told this spring, voters around the state approved an estimated $239 million in new school district spending but rejected about $425 million.



That was 2007, before the economy took a big dive.

More reasons a referendum now is a bad idea. The Franklin school district sent out survey after survey desperately hoping to find numbers that would support a massive self-inflicted tax increase.
FranklinNOW has reported:


“According to data, only 47 percent of survey respondents said they would support a referendum to help the district update and expand facilities. But 65 percent of residents suggested the district should either address middle school needs first, address high school needs first or implement a comprehensive plan addressing all needs.

‘The community is saying we should do something,'(Bill Foster, president of School Perceptions, an education research firm) said. ‘Now what to do is a little more complicated of a question.’

More residents would likely support a referendum that would improve core academics, he said. Less than half of residents supported costs to update the high school swimming pool, outdoor and indoor athletic areas, or add an auditorium or community center at the high school.”

You see. The people who pay the bills, though they don’t attend meetings, make phone calls, or send e-mails, GET IT. They know when they are being screwed.


DO THEY REALLY WANT A REFERENDUM?

Oh yes they do, but they’d be wise to reconsider.

The Wisconsin Reporter writes in a piece about how the state budget is saving local municipalities money as a result of the state budget proposed by Governor Walker and approved by legislative Republicans:

Referendum is a tool in Act 10 (the state budget) that hasn’t received much attention. School boards are free under the law to take teacher salary increases to district voters, and let taxpayers make the final call.

But the odds of voter approval drop in tough economic times. And school referenda have fallen in recent years, said (Dale) Knapp, of the  (Wisconsin)Taxpayers Alliance. School-related spending questions have dropped from about 80 per year between 1998 and 2001, to around 30 in the past few years, Knapp said.

Asking for money to cover salaries and benefits, however, is a tough question, the researcher said.

‘Many in private sector, many in public sector, are getting by with minimal raises at best,’ he said. ‘To ask them to pay for higher salaries is probably going to be a real difficult sell’.”


The same could probably be said about “facilities.”


BOTTOM LINE

1) There will be a refeerendum, maybe more than one. The tax and spending Franklin School Board has the votes to approve a referendum, at least 4, possibly 6 votes.

2) The price tag will not be reasonable.

3) The school administration propaganda machine will spin so hard it’ll resemble Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian Devil.

4) It will all boil down to whether or not Franklin residents want to vote themselves a huge tax increase.

5) The school administration is hoping you forgot the debacle of referenda questions in 2007.


THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2011

1) ?


2) ?

3) ?

4) PLANNED PROPERTY TAX INCREASE (REFERENDUM) IS COMING

5) FRANKLIN'S MOTTO: SPEND, SPEND, SPEND

6) CAN’T WE JUST ALL GET ALONG?

7) GOV. WALKER TURNS THE HEAT DOWN IN TAX HELL

8) APATHY AILS FRANKLIN

9) 
NO EXCUSE FOR THEIR BEHAVIOR

10) TORNADO WARNING SIRENS INSTALLED  IN FRANKLIN

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