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 fiscally irresponsible bunch in charge of our public schools is great...at spending and wasting our tax dollars. They are the Energizer bunny that keeps taxing and spending and taxing and spending and taxing and spending.
At the June 26, 2013 Franklin School Board meeting, discussion ensued about a concession stand in the school district. This wouldn’t be just any concession stand. Not at all. This concession stand comes with a price tag of, are you ready? Are you sitting down?
New school board member Alan Aleksandrowicz was the first to express concern.
“A concession stand… I’m still struggling with that…I never saw any plans that we did. But I’m thinking…$1.1 million. I made the connection that if I was building a home for $1.1.million, I would build just one hell of a house. And this is supposed to be a concession stand and restrooms. I can’t make the connection with how that’s going to cost $1.1 million.”
STOP THE PRESSES!
A rare moment of absolute brilliance on the part of the Franklin School Board.
Superintendent Steve Patz was not in attendance. He was on vacation.
That left any inquiries at the meeting to go to Business Manager Jim Milzer who answered in his usual useless Sominex delivery.
The superintendent will send out information when he gets back from vacation Milzer told the board and the one citizen in attendance.
School Board President Janet Evans said regarding the concession stand, “I want to emphasize, we didn’t have a presentation. We were e-mailed the plans back in March.”
School Board member Linda Witkowski added, “And the plans were just renderings. Three-dimensional renderings. There were no floor plans or cost.”
Cue Milzer: The superintendent will have more when he gets back from vacation.
Two similar questions were posed: Is the funding for the concession stand in the current budget?
Milzer: You’d have to ask Superintendent Patz when he gets back. Remember, this is the school district's Business Manager claiming ignorance.
No further outrage or disgust. End of discussion. Your tax dollars at work.
More fiscal follies
Franklin blogger Bryan Maersch broke the story about another episode of Franklin school officials recklessly tossing your tax dollars around like Tootsie Rolls at an Independence Day parade. A new electronic sign had been posted during summer outside Franklin High School.
Maersch contacted members of the Franklin School Board to inquire about the cost of the sign. A School Board member sought answers from Franklin Public Schools Superintendent Steve Patz.
Via e-mail, Patz responded to Maersch that the cost was $53,000 and that the sign had been 100% paid for through fund-raising efforts by the High School Athletic Director, Sara Unertl and were tied to the revenue received from the Athletic Department Golf Outings and related donations.
Maersch responded, “Wouldn’t that type of donation go to support our High School athletes rather than a sign?” Who was the decision maker for the purchase of the sign?” Who gave the orders for it to be built, approved the specifications and finally authorized the spending of the $53,000.00?”
Patz wrote back:
“The sign was the result of a joint discussion between the Athletic Director (Sara Unertl), Principal (Mike Nowak), Business Manager (Jim Milzer) and Myself (Dr. Steve Patz). I approve the final decision as this is an operational matter that does not go before the board, especially when there is a donation of funds that was dedicated to this project.”
That led Maersch to conclude:
“So simply put, Dr. Steve Patz has autonomous power for spending, while the Board of Education is clueless about how he spends. One could assume they have no clue about what extra’s Dr. Patz has in store for the High School remodel.”
In August I took a drive over to the high school to observe this $53,000 technological wonder. There was a series of about seven or eight separate announcements that continuously loop, including two displays of “Go Sabers!”
Another announcement the day I took a look mentioned Forms and Fees for the new school year, but then stated for more information, “check the website.” My, but that’s helpful. When Patz wrote in his e-mail to Maersch that we “believe it adds greatly to our ability to communicate to the public,” I hope that’s not what he had in mind.
What about the $53,000 price tag? Is that reasonable? Or is it excessive?
I spoke with an industry expert who said the cost depends on size, of course, but also on the pixel rate. There’s great competition for these boards, so the price has come down quite a bit in recent years. Without more specific information about the Franklin board, my source said it sounds like “They didn’t over-pay, they didn’t get hosed.”
That’s not to say there aren’t other issues that raise eyebrows.
Franklin vs. Greenfield
Let’s compare the process used by Franklin to put up its board with that of the city of Greenfield. We already know a few Franklin school officials discussed the matter before the superintendent made the final decision to spend $53,000 from donations to athletics on the sign. The Franklin School Board never had a say in the transaction.
In Greenfield, an electronic reader board is located near the city’s Community Center at 7215 W. Cold Spring Road. Sources at the city of Greenfield confirm the board was put up as an agreement with Clear Channel Outdoor. A lease is in place for 20 years that pays a monthly lease fee of $1,000 per month with an annual 7.5% override depending upon the performance of board. Let’s be clear about that. Clear Channel pays the city of Greenfield that uses the money to support its community center. No levied dollars are used for the community center so the revenue helps pay the costs to run the building. Nice.
Greenfield also has access to a half panel ad per rotation per side free of charge on an as available basis which the city thought was important. It has been critical in advertising events and programs.
There’s an ongoing revenue source with the Greenfield board; not so with the one in Franklin.
The entire Greenfield project cost and ongoing utilities are the responsibility of Clear Channel. Franklin must finance the maintenance of its board, including the upkeep and energy costs.
GreenfieldPatch.com reports it took upwards of 18 months for the city of Greenfield and Clear Channel to agree on the design and other details at open, public meetings. Franklin’s discussions and ultimate decision occurred behind closed doors. Franklin never contacted Clear Channel to discuss a similar arrangement to Greenfield’s.
“On-premises” vs. “Off-premises”
Greenfield’s board near the Community Center is considered “off-premises.” Therefore, in agreement with Clear Channel, the city of Greenfield gets to promote itself and Clear Channel is allowed to run advertisements. It’s a win-win for the city and a private business.
Franklin’s board could be considered “on-premises,” preventing the school district from contracting to have a combo system of running ads along with its various school announcements. A source in the billboard industry I spoke to said the Franklin school district could conceivably seek a method to run ads on the board, but the city of Franklin might have building codes or statutes that wouldn’t permit them. Requesting the necessary changes could open up a can of worms that would be divisive and create heated opposition. Debate could stretch out over a long period of time and that’s understandable given lengthy deliberations in Greenfield when the consensus was in support of an electronic board.
When I told a city of Greenfield official about the Franklin board sans advertising, that official replied, “That’s stupid!”
Let’s rewind the clock to the June 26, 2013 meeting of the Franklin School Board. This is a meeting where School Board members attend along with the Superintendent, the Business Manager, and other over-paid bureaucrats.
At this meeting, some board members expressed concern about the lack of summer swim programs at Franklin High School. There are no such classes because a majority of Franklin voters were brainwashed into voting for referendum questions that increase property taxes to pay for unnecessary improvements at the high school. Thus, construction equipment prevents Franklin taxpayers from sending their kids to popular swim classes.
When confronted with questions by board members about a potential loss of revenue from the lack of swim classes, Business Manager Jim Milzer, who will never be mistaken for a fiscal conservative, and this is important, told the board the swim program loses money. Without the swim classes, there’s no need for staffing, so it evens out.
Milzer also told the board it might be two years before swim classes return to the Franklin High School pool. Again, the board was told the swim program doesn’t do well for the district, so other avenues at local businesses were examined to pick up those classes, off-site, over the next two summers. After that, the program might have to be revamped so it’s not a money loser over time.
The Franklin school district is taking in money hand over fist.
It’s amazing to me how our spend-happy school administrators suddenly turn into penny pinchers over swim classes for hard-working, pushed to the limit Franklin taxpayers.
They’re not at all concerned about depriving local taxpayers of swim classes for two summers because the classes don’t do well financially. Very revealing.
You wanna talk about not doing well? I would offer the same argument against the $53,000 do-nothing sign that brings in no revenue, a big fat loser for Franklin.
Some final observations
The school district says the message board cost nothing because donations paid for it. Maybe so. But those donations were made, I'm sure, to pay for uniforms, football helmets, tennis rackets, balls, equipment, facilities upkeep, etc., not a $53,000 sign. If I were a donor, I’d feel I was deceived, and I’d be ticked.
You can almost sense the arrogance in Superintendent Patz’s response to Bryan Maersch:
“I approve the final decision as this is an operational matter that does not go before the board.”
I bet Patz was thinking, but didn’t write:
“So whatcha gonna do about it?”
The School Board was completely shut out of this process. If I was a School Board member, I’d feel I was deceived, and I’d be ticked.
Why wasn’t this matter put out for bid? Why wasn’t the School Board involved? I repeat, If I was a School Board member, I’d feel I was deceived, and I’d be ticked.
In Franklin we have the Bizarro world of the School Board working for the Superintendent instead of the reverse, as it should be. The school administration is extremely fortunate they can hypnotize a totally non-caring general public. The word in the dictionary is apathetic. And then there’s a School Board that simply rolls over and takes it. Very disappointing.
I conclude by submitting I’m not against an electronic sign per se. However, the actions by the people entrusted with running our schools once again raise questions about their credibility and efficiency, not to mention common sense.
If the Franklin school district is foolishly banking on announcements on their $53,000 board turning into a cash cow, that’s a helluva lot of football, basketball, soccer tickets and bake sale items that need to be sold.
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2013
5) FISCAL FOLLIES AT FRANKLIN SCHOOLS
6) HUGHES HITS 800
7) FRANKLIN SABERS GO TO STATE
8) THE FIGHT LED BY FRANKLIN NEVER ENDS
9) TURN OFF THOSE DAMN LIGHTS!
10) I TAWT I TAW A PUDDY-TAT