“How to Reform Your Local School Board”

Steve Loehrke:

I have been the President of the Weyauwega-Fremont School Board for the last four years. I own a small realty and appraisal company,a small computer, and Internet website development company. I recently founded a non-profit charitable corporation to help underprivileged children in Wisconsin. I serve on the school board primarily as a concerned parent of school aged children and as a taxpayer
I always tell my employees “Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me at least two possible solutions.” So I’m going to tell you what I perceive to be the problem and give you some possible solutions. Some people perceive the problem to be not enough money for education and their only solution is to dig deeper into taxpayer’s pockets. From where I sit, the problem is “How do we maintain or improve the quality of education in Wisconsin while controlling the current and future costs to taxpayers?”
Most people associated with schools in Wisconsin are worried about some type of tax freeze because they think it will limit the money available to schools. I am not. Here’s why: Historically, school districts budgeted for what they thought they would need to run their respective district and raised taxes to match. Then, around 1993, as part of the QEO law changes, the State of Wisconsin established revenue caps. So instead of a bottomless billfold, school districts suddenly had a fixed amount of taxpayer’s money placed into their billfold each year. They had to learn to spend no more than they made, just like most people with regular jobs. However, instead of learning to do with what was available, school districts did things like promote referendums to exceed the revenue cap.
Before I got on the Board, our school district tried three times until they finally received voter approval for a referendum. When I got on the Board, I was told that our district would have to plan for another referendum when the existing one ran out in order to keep our district afloat. Demographics showed that our school district would be switching from an increasing enrollment to a declining enrollment. I have observed that an increasing enrollment hides many financial problems while a declining enrollment emphasizes the problems. Our school district had been running deficits budgets and was depleting its fund balance to pay regular expanses. Our mill rate was one of the highest in the area. Our administrative overhead was one of the highest in the county. Our employees’ health insurance costs were one of the highest in our neighborhood. Our post retirement costs were the highest in our conference. Yet, everyone said they expected another referendum to sustain the bloat. No one wanted to tighten the belt.

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