Westfield School Board holds Annual Meeting

The Westfield School Board met on August 18th for the public annual meeting. The meeting began with a budget hearing presented by Business Manager Greg Benz. He reported that the 2021/22 general fund expenditures would be $15,287,689 and revenues of $14,945,136, with the fund balance projected to be $5,473,720 at the end of 2022, a net loss of $342,553 from the previous year. 

The tax levy for general operations would be $7,265,617 and the unrepealable levy for debt service would be $100,000. The overall indebtedness of the district would be $500,000 after the 2021/22 school year due to a QZAB loan that will be paid off in the 2026/27 school year. The mill rate was projected to be $6.47, down from $6.72 in 2020/21 and $7.48 in 2017/18.

Benz then highlighted a number of things from the past year. Open enrollment resulted in a net loss of 149 students in 2020/21. There was a net loss of 129 students in 2019/20 and 118 students in 2018/19. The majority of the Governor’s Emergency Relief fund and the ESSER 1 funds were spent in operations, technology equipment, and salaries for online teaching. They had a surplus due to small savings across all budgets, but saw the biggest savings in buildings and grounds, transportation, and athletics. Areas with larger than expected costs were seen in open enrollment out, special education transfer, and for the technology coach. 

$1 million in fund balances have also been designated for future projects. These projects were identified during district-wide facility tours as major issues and Benz said that these projects have a strong likelihood of exceeding that $1 million balance. The biggest project is replacing the High School/Middle School roof. Their initial estimate ranges from $800,000 to $1.7 million. The other projects include replacing and fixing the parking lots at Westfield Elementary and High/Middle School, HVAC projects in numerous buildings, and a heavy duty mechanical bus lifter.

They might be able to use their ESSER funds for the HVAC system, but they were considering going to referendum to pay for the projects. Some members thought it would be best to use the funds available in the general fund to cover the costs, but Board President Mark McCartney believed that the public would be more willing to approve a referendum considering what needed to be done, plus the fact that the mill rate had been so low for so long. District Administrator Bob Meicher was hoping to start at least one of the projects by next summer to ensure that all the projects didn’t bunch up. The board discussed combining the projects into the referendum so they could be combined in one cost.

They then moved into the annual meeting agenda, with Board President Mark McCartney saying that he felt it was a very big win that they kept their kids in face-to-face learning for as long and as much as they did. He said it wasn’t an easy thing to do from the administrative and staff standpoint and he thanked them for all their work, saying, “The value of our kids being in a classroom with their teachers and with their peers was huge. Like I said last year at this meeting, I hope for even more normalcy and continued good work in our district.”

District Administrator Bob Meicher shared the same sentiment, saying that the district was in good shape both physically and emotionally. He praised their staff and the overall staff retention rate, saying it was double what other districts experience. He said that their financial stability was the envy of most districts, citing their low debt and their low mill rate. He talked about the district facilities projects that need completing and expressed that they wanted to avoid having to do them all at the same time. 

He closed by saying, “We may not know what the future holds for this school year and beyond, but we know that we’re better together and we look forward to re-engaging with our students this year, building relationships, providing a sense of safety so that we can get back to learning, and making memories that drive us to be better each day. We ask for our community’s flexibility and grace as we tackle future challenges together. Our district is strong, it’s a great place for kids to get a great education and a great place to be an educator.” 

Treasurer Tom Wastart spoke and reminded the board that in 1996 the mill rate was $10.50 and said that they’ve come a long way since then. He said the conservative attitude of the school board meant they didn’t spend money they didn’t need to. “We are very fortunate in this district and I hope the board continues that direction of spending money wisely. We are here to represent the taxpayers, and we’re all taxpayers and we don’t want that mill rate climbing. I want to thank all the constituents for standing behind the school board as they have throughout the years and bringing their concerns forward. Hopefully, we can continue this trend of staying healthy financially.”

District resident Natalie Bussan then made a motion to require masking in the Elementary Schools until such time that vaccines are available for the students. She cited the liability exemption statute for COVID and said it doesn’t provide a liability exemption if they are reckless. She questioned if a jury would consider not having required masking as reckless or not, and what having to pay damages would cause to the District. She thought that the conditions in the Elementary last year were wonderful and asked to continue it this year to make sure her daughter and other students were safe. She also felt that it would bring a level of comfort to everyone involved. 

Meicher and McCartney told Bussan that the request might be a better topic to discuss during a regular board meeting, saying that the annual meeting had certain powers that explained what could and couldn’t be done at the meeting. Her request would not fit into one of the powers of the annual meeting, which was meant for tax purposes, salaries, and similar topics. Bussan understood and the annual meeting continued. 

The audience then approved continuing the board salaries as they have been, approved the tax levy, and approved the next annual meeting on August 17th, 2022 at 7pm. At the end of the annual meeting, Tom Wastart spoke, asking for a District letter to be mailed out before the next meeting containing the information shared in the meeting. He hoped that it would bring more community members to attend the meeting. Other board members agreed with this. 

The Board then moved into their regular monthly board meeting, starting with public comments. Multiple parents spoke, both in support of and against requiring masks in the schools this year. High School Principal David Moody spoke in favor of it, saying that as a parent he believed that the only reason they stayed face-to-face five days a week was because every student was masked. He said, “You can’t put 500 people in a building for 8 hours a day and not have the virus transmit from person to person.” He was concerned about this year with his child at the elementary school and believed that the elementary schools would not stay open very long without masks. He said it was a recipe for disaster and that they should err on the side of safety, rather than politics. 

Aaron Sengbusch spoke in favor of having parents decide whether their children should be masked. He said that none of them were doctors and that the decision to be masked should be left to health professionals. He said, “Nobody here knows enough to make that decision. Everybody says they feel more comfortable in masks, not everybody, and I’m certain our children don’t.” He said that if the County or State were to step in and require masks they should follow it, but he again said that it shouldn’t be up to any certain person in the District. He also did not agree with the rule that parents couldn’t walk their children into school, even if they were fully vaccinated.

Natalie Bussan then had a chance to speak again, saying that the County and the Health Department would most likely not have the authority to require masking in the future and that the decision was up to the school board. She then said she understood why there wasn’t a virtual option for this year, but the lack of a virtual option combined with a lack of masking requirements left parents with homeschooling as their only option. She and her daughter didn’t want to do that, but she felt that parents with similar thoughts were backed into a corner. She again asked to have the mask requirement extended for the elementary until those students could be vaccinated. Not having everyone masked would reduce the level of protection for those unvaccinated students in the school, she said. As the topic of masking was not on the agenda for this meeting, the board did not act or discuss on these requests. 

Kelly Reetz also spoke, asking the board about utilizing the multipurpose room for Senior Citizen Silver Sneaker Classes. She explained that they haven’t held the classes since the pandemic began and that they have watched the overall health of the participants decline during that time. She asked the board to consider allowing outside participants into the building to hold these classes. No action was taken by the board.

Under business items, the board accepted a $2,500 donation from Brakebush Family Foundation Inc. to the Pioneer Pantry, a $250 donation from Greg and Pat Peyer to the Pioneer Pantry, a $550 donation from Heart of Mercy Endowment within the Catholic Diocese of Madison Foundation to the Pioneer Pantry, and a $300 donation from the American Transmission Company and the Milwaukee Bucks “Trees for Threes Program” to purchase and plant trees at Coloma Elementary. 

They then approved the resignation of Korey Kangas as 50% Football Coach and Middle School Boys and Girls Basketball Coach, the resignation of Rachel Paskey, Elementary LMC Aide, the retirement of Melody Rodger, High School Secretary, moving Bailey Christman from 9-month Coloma Secretary position to 12-month High School secretary position, moving Alison Gerhart from Special Education Teacher Assistant to Coloma Secretary position, and moving Deborah Zagielski from 6-hour custodial position to 8-hour position. Additionally, they approved the hire of Allen Gerken as Bus Driver, Joslyn Bower-Nelson as Middle School Volleyball Coach, Kerri Marquardt as Cook, and Andrew Hussar as Custodian.