Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.
The room was packed; emotions ran high. Maybe 80 residents were in attendance? Judging from the Pro 4K-ers holding up little yellow "4K Yes" paper hands, they outnumbered those against maybe 5 to 1. I thought to myself, Oh, this is going to be an emotion filled night. I was right. (My aside comments will be in parenthesis.)
Superintendent Matt Gibson opened the topic at 7:55pm stating that 4K was 1 of 25 ideas discussed as ways to ease Elmbrook's financial problems. 4K was the only one that had an educational and revenue benefit to it. He gave the statistic of 70% of districts in Wisconsin have 4K and touted that our 4K brought in more dollars than it spends: Cost $800,000 Brings in $2 million. (We can debate that at another time.)
Then Matt said something I really took issue to. He predicted 5 board members will vote FOR continuing 4K and said something about pressure on the newest board member.
I don't think that was proper at all!
Gibson then stated that he saw 4K as essential to replace declining enrollment. Then he gave the usual cautions of if we don't approve 4K, we think we can keep electives and interventions but the district would also need to look at closing schools or a referendum to raise the cap. (Check the cable broadcast for exact words.)
Board President Meg Wartman then said, that as we look at the same question and issue from different sides we may have different remedies: financial and educational. That told me she was still a no vote.
Now the public comment parade.
First was Julie Cramer, Hillside Principal. Of course she extolled the marvelous educational and socialization attributes of the 4K program. She also relied on the too familiar argument for keeping any pilot program in place: We already invested $500,000 in the program (as if that justifies anything).
Next was the Principal from Brookfield El. She raised the question: Do we need it? Students are fine without it--they have been fine without it for 40 years. Is fine good enough? Our vision has been to be an exemplary district. (We could be exemplary in that Elmbrook spends money very wisely--only on programs that show real benefit!)
I think 14 spoke in all--only one against. Emotions were high as the parents and grandparents told of their child's wonderful experiences with our 4K. One woman, Laurie B-something, a Psychiatrist in the community, was all excited because her little one recently at the Dr.s office knew their left from their right. She saw that as a milestone evidently.
Other comments included that 4K attracted young families to our community, those who favored 4K also favored the high school referendum, parents felt they could not "pull out" the energy and excitement from their child, and that it was not about the money: even without a 4K program, they would pay a private school for the 4K program if necessary.
Time for board discussion. Ziegler made the motion and Steve Schwei (on the phone) talked about 4K filling up the decline and deferring the need for cuts.
Tom Gehl commented first on the process saying he was deeply concerned with how Matt Gibson introduced the topic tonight. I hope I never hear a prediction on a vote prior [to voting] to relieve pressure on a new board member, he said. (So, Matt's comments did not sit well with Tom either.)
The only new information I heard was from Glen Allgaier. That man has really done his homework! He said those studies that the pro 4K-ers cited to show 4K to be beneficial were in regards to Kindergarten readiness, not long term benefit.
Eileen Depka, the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services was pushing hard to keep 4K.
Cheri Sylla then proposed the Sunset 4K motion (5 year trial). The board eventually voted and it failed, 4-3.
Matt, now shaken, brings up our Strategic Plan--the Vision Statement. He concludes with 4K is one more piece of advance planning.
Meg took issue with his assumption that a No vote showed a lack of planning. She said, 4K came out of a financed need in the 2005 study and 4K was not even at the top of the list. Since then, we have been trying to prove academic merit, which we can't find. That brought up a startling comment regarding all day 5K. Meg questioned the benefits of all day 5K--We have not even tried to show the benefit of it by 5th grade--have we ever shown 5th grade gain? (Again, check the broadcast for her exact words.)
Meg concluded her remarks with, leadership sometimes means going against [what is popular] and looking at your neighbors and saying I can't. I have not supported 4K in the past or today; High School facilities [meetings] talks about wants vs needs. I don't know they have to have it [4K].
Eileen again pushes for passage of 4K citing the 400 responses from pro 4K residents. Tom Gehl questions that number and reminds her that since the 400 were from separate surveys, many of those were repeats.
Surprisingly, Steve Schwei pipes up again asking if they voted for a Sunset vote. (I thought they already did this.) But they vote AGAIN! Same result: 4 no--3 yes.
Now a woman, I think Laurie B, from the audience is allowed to speak before the board! This struck me as very unusual since it was in the middle of the discussion period. There were already 2 failed votes. Plus, I think this was the same Psychiatrist who was so excited that her youngster knew their left from their right spoke up. (Check the broadcast.) She was practically in tears, You are dealing with our kids lives! Etc. etc.
More discussion by the board. Finally, the board votes at around 10 pm. The results are the same: Elmbrook rejects 4K
The four board members, Gehl, Wartman, Allgier, and Murphy showed real strength by voting NO amidst such emotions, but vote no they did.
Making these kind of unpopular decisions must be difficult. But in the future, because of budget constraints, we will have to look at each and every aspect of public education and weigh it in the light of does it show real merit and is the gain worth the investment.
Please send a note of thanks to these board members. It was a rough night!
P.S. I have tried to give a flavor of the night here for those of you (like me) who don't have cable TV. If I find out some of this information is incorrect, I will post a correction.