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.
If you go to the city of Franklin website, you’ll see this notice on the home page:
The City of Franklin Froze Property Taxes for 2014…
so why did property taxes change?
It is absolutely true that the City froze property taxes for the 2014 Budget at the 2013 Budget level, but there are other factors that impact tax bills.
Then comes a rather wonky explanation that also includes this important nugget:
“Other factors such as changes in property tax levies by the other taxing jurisdictions and changes in manufacturing property values are also reflected in those final results.”
To borrow from above, absolutely true. The tax bill includes levies from Milwaukee County, the sewerage district and the Franklin School district.
The city website is attempting to distance itself from other taxing authorities, primarily the Franklin school district, and you can't blame the city for this stratgey.
City government froze property taxes. But local property taxpayers receive their bills from the city. They pay those bills at City Hall. Some taxpayers express their frustrations to the city workers at the City Treasurer's Office where payments are made.
So the city elsewhere on its website makes it rather clear to residents why tax bills increased:
Another Taxing Jurisdiction – The Franklin School District – increased their taxes.
The City of Franklin’s share of total property taxes is only about 25%. Although the City didn’t increase its property tax levy, the Franklin School District did by 3%. Approximately 80% of residential properties are located in the Franklin School District. Those property owners in the Franklin School District are experiencing the most significant increase, which is largely due to the approval by voters of a referendum. In short, the ability for the Franklin School District to build an addition, remodel, and enhance facility was approved by a majority of voters, and those costs are first appearing on this year’s tax bill. Since the Franklin School District is approximately 50% of the total tax bill, their increase of 3% will cause in increase of approximately 1.5% in the total tax bill for residents of this area.
True, the majority of voters chose to impose a property tax increase on themselves via referenda. One would think and hope that given that windfall the tax and spenders would find a way to turn off the spigot and try to hold the line, giving the folks who pay the bills a break. However, The Franklin Public Schools Administration and Franklin School Board would provide a perfect power point presentation on how a municipality budgets irresponsibly. There were some eye-opening examples in 2013. Remember, what you're about to read all occurred on the heels of the school district passing a school budget last year with a property tax levy increase beyond the rate of inflation AND hornswoggling the public into approving two of three needless school referenda.
WE want a raise
We’ve already documented the $1.1 million concession stand and $53,000 electronic sign.
Late last year on my blog, I made a prediction:
According to the latest data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, here are the salaries and benefits of the current Franklin School District administrators. The salaries are mentioned first followed by their benefits.
FranklinSchool Superintendent Steve Patz:
$161,558 / $61,747
James Milzer, Franklin Public Schools:
$137,065.00 / $53,860
Michael Cady, Franklin Public High School:
$115,634 / $49,420
Christine Cody, Southwood Glen Elementary
$95,000 / $36,221
Jamie Foeckler, Pleasant View Elementary
$96,835 / $42,796
Chad Nelson, Pleasant View Elementary
$87,248 / $40,686
Karen Noel, Country Dale Elementary
$95,000 / $15,355
Mary Siewert, Ben Franklin Elementary
$98,750 / $30,379
Theresa West, Forest Park Middle
John Budish, Franklin High
$84,000 / $18,955
Nicholas Kohn, Franklin High
$80,250 / $33,839
Christopher Reuter, Forest Park Middle
$76,308 / $33,254
Judith Mueller, Central Office
$124,777 / $30,957
Michael Zellmer, Central Office
$96,260 / $9,196
Gerald Tischer, Central Office
$93,217 / $43,198
Do I begrudge any of these individuals their salaries and benefits? Of course not.
Do I think they’re grossly overpaid? YES!
Do I think they deserve a salary/benefit package increase? NO!
Yet, I predict they will have the gumption to march to the Franklin School Board and demand a salary/ benefits increase. It could range from 1-5%.
---December 12, 2012
Then this past May, the administration went to the school board with both hands extended…more, more, more. The request was for a retroactive pay raise for all non-represented, non-certified employees of 2.7 %. At the time, the Consumer Price Index (rate of inflation) was 1.9%.
The proposal before the school board was not only to increase the salaries for non-certified workers but for administrators and Superintendent Steve Patz.
The appropriate procedure would have been for the school board to consider raises for non-certified employees and the highly-compensated superintendent and administrators separately. An amendment to do just that failed as the board shot it down.
Then an amendment to make a pool to disperse raises to non-certified individuals at the discretion of the superintendent was approved. So the superintendent will now determine who gets a raise and how much. This should be the job of the school board, not the superintendent who answers to the board.
Nothing against non-certified employees like janitors or social workers, but their compensation should not be included in the same pool or the same discussion as the superintendent and administrators.
How many of you reading got a 2.7% salary hike this year?
The votes came just one day after FranklinNOW.com reported:
"The state Department of Public Instruction recently released test scores from the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concept Exam, and local results outpaced state averages in all academic subjects.
"The annual state-mandated exam was administered in November to students in grades three through eight, and 10. The test evaluates reading, language, mathematics, science and social studies, with scores being placed in either minimal, basic, proficient or advanced categories.
"School officials and parents in Franklin and Greendale saw a drastic decrease in the percentage of proficient scores in reading and math, a trend that was seen throughout the state."
Because the board and the administration don’t know when to stay “stop” when it comes to spending, the board folded like a card table. Everyone gets a raise, from the fat cats right down to the janitors.
Of course the district didn’t want this information made public. But even at the poorly-attended school board meeting where the raises were approved, someone tweeted in to FranklinNOW about the pay raise vote.
A few days later, FranklinNOW reporter Scottie Meyers followed up with an article on what happened and what officials were saying.
Meyers’ story was revealing. Let’s examine some excerpts in black followed by my take in red.
Director of Business Services Jim Milzer said non-certified employees last received a raise in the 2011-12 school year.
So what. There are plenty of folks in the private sector who have gone much longer without raises, or who have experienced pay cuts, benefit cuts, both, or pink slips.
The district has budgeted for the raises, and they will not provide an additional budget strain.
That’s doublespeak. This is a salary increase, a budget increase. How can a budget increase not be an additional budget strain?
After administrators presented the pay raise plan at the May 8 School Board meeting, Vice President Tim Nielson, who was first elected to the board in April 2011, said he felt like he was "getting a little bit of a curveball." The agenda item read: "Human resources report: Non-certified staff compensation update and personnel report approval."
Nielson may have felt he had been tossed a curve, but as we learn later in the article, he voted for the pay raises. Didn’t take him long to come on board with the administration. Hey, Tim...care to remember what you ran and won on?
School Board President Janet Evans, who was elected to the board in 2009 and is now serving her second term, made a motion to amend the proposal by separating out Patz and other high-paying district administrators. Evans said she believes Patz and other administrators work just as hard, but the higher-paid employees can better handle a sluggish economy and cost-of-living increases compared to non-certified employees with lower salaries.
A rare moment of common sense at a Franklin School Board meeting. Note, it's not from the administration.
Patz called Evans' motion unfair to hardworking administrators, and that no one is exempt from higher costs of living.
No one’s being unfair to Steve Patz, especially more than generous Franklin taxpayers. Earth to Steve: Have you seen how your compensation package compares to other supers around Wisconsin? And it’s undeniable that Franklin’s highly-paid administrators can certainly handle what little inflation we’ve got compared to say, a maintenance guy.
School Board member Melissa Klein said, "unless one group doesn't deserve the raise, and one does, then I don't see a reason to break it out."
Klein and others didn’t want the issue broken down between the much-higher compensated administrators and other staff because if one just looked at each group separately, it might have been easier to vote no for one group (the fat cats) and yes for the other. No, they wanted to spread the wealth, spend, spend, spend, and they did.
Evan’s amendment failed, 4-2, with newcomer Alan Aleksandrowicz abstaining.
His first tough vote, and he ABSTAINS? Wow. Just the kind of courageous leadership we DON'T NEED on the board.
Eventually the School Board voted 5-2 to approve the pay raises, with Evans and Linda Witkowski voting against them.
Hello, Tim Nielson. Hello, Aimee Schluetter. Thanks a lot.
In the comments section of the FranklinNOW article, former Franklin alderman Steve Olson said the board needs changes. I agree. It’d be nice to have more votes on the board that are taxpayer-friendly and that mirror the fiscal conservativeness in this city.
And keep in mind the only rationale given for the pay raise for non-certified staff was that they hadn't had a raise since the 2011-12 school year. That's it? They deserve a raise for that and that alone?
State aid increases
One of the perennial favorites of the school district is to anxiously await word from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about how much state aid the district will receive for the coming school year. If there’s a decrease, administrators and school board members put on their game faces. They proclaim that even though they’d rather not raise taxes, the reduction in state aid leaves them no choice. Blame is squarely placed on Madison while school officials secretly smile inside.
Kiss that argument goodbye in 2013.
DPI released state aid figures for every school district in Wisconsin. Franklin is one of 193 districts that saw an increase in state aid.
In 2012-13, Franklin received $13,938,751 in state aid. For 2013-14, Franklin will receive $14,491,441, an increase of $552,690 from the previous year or 3.97%.
The folks that run the schools in Franklin probably had to work hard to hide their tears in the hallways. They cannot justify a huge property tax increase by playing the poverty game and portraying the state as Ebenezer Scrooge.
In July I asked, “Could they turn around and still propose and approve a big tax increase? Could they maintain a nearly 4% increase in state aid still isn’t enough? You better believe it. Such action, beyond what was foolishly approved in referenda last November, would be inappropriate and unnecessary.”
Last month when the school budget was approved, FranklinNOW reported, and read carefully the spin:
“The school district's tax increase was less than expected for the 2013-14 school year. That's good news, said Jim Milzer, director of business services. ‘We had estimated the tax increase would be about 4.5 percent, but it's actually coming in about 3.1 percent, which is down over $400,000 from that earlier estimate,’ Milzer said.”
In other words taxpayers should be happier because the tax and spenders were originally planning a bigger increase. So be pleased with the tax increase you got.
This is the mentality that permeates the school district.
People receiving unemployment checks for well over a year?
Record number of people on food stamps?
Doesn’t matter. Tax and spend. Tax and spend. Tax and spend.
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2013
4) CITY POINTS FINGER AT $CHOOL$...RIGHTFULLY SO
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