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.
Undeniably, it’s in the best interests of society that public schools succeed. That’s why even outspoken critics of public education, like me, deep down inside want government-funded schools to perform well. It’ why we’re so critical. We prefer teachers and their students excel. To believe otherwise would be misguided and foolish, to say the least.
Ideally, a community would have the very best facilities to offer students. After all, if reasonable and affordable, who wouldn't dream of state-of-the-art computers, up-to-date libraries, large classrooms, and don’t forget top-notch athletic venues.
But practically, we can’t all be Hartland Arrowhead.
But practically, we can’t all be Hartland Arrowhead.
But practically, we can’t all be powerhouse Hartland Arrowhead, the school that keeps raising the bar when it comes to sports construction.
I actually began work on this blog entry late last year, but always seemed to get side-tracked. Several important developments have transpired since so it's an appropriate time to reflect.
Here in Franklin, school building projects haven't become a discussion item. They've become an obsession.
On November 6th, 2012, voters in the Franklin Public School District approved two facilities projects via referendum: A $20.6 million academic addition at Franklin High School and a $12.6 million auditorium and music addition at Franklin High School. A third referendum question to authorize millions of dollars in improvements at the middle school failed.
Two out of three. I guess you can't soak the taxpayers all the time.
In 2013, work began on the new projects that was plain to see by residents what with cranes and bulldozers.
Also in 2013, 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 came with a price tag of:
New school board member Alan Aleksandrowicz was expressed 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.”
This is all part of the backstory of even more school spending, spending a lot of people I bet thought was over when voters went to the polls in November 2012.
In August of 2013, 16 parents formed The Saber Stadium Project Committee to begin work fundraising for a new turf field, an eight-lane competition track, a video scoreboard and other improvements that will benefit Park & Rec programs, the band program, poms & cheer, baseball, softball and phy-ed students at the school.
Extremely laudable, the project was being pushed by veteran residents who’ve been strong civic and community advocates for many years.
Dave Bartels, the project chairman wrote in a letter to the community announcing the fundraising effort:
“With the current construction of a new concession stand, restrooms and entryway at the high school almost complete, now is the time to take the next step, keep the ball rolling and work towards providing the
kids and families of Franklin the type of athletics and activities they deserve to have – the type of facility that reflects the image of our great city.
“I am pleased to announce the formation of a group of Franklin residents who have the same goals and
aspirations to enhance the quality of life in our city. ‘The Saber Stadium Project’ has one goal in mind: working in concert with the Franklin School District to provide the needed improvements to update our outdated athletics and activities facilities at the high school.
“Our goal is to raise money via private and corporate donations to fund this project while not using public funds!"
Such an endeavor I would enthusiastically support. However, I easily predicted what was going to happen. Wasn’t exactly rocket science. They weren’t going to make it.
Near the end of 2013, the project had raised $850,000. Sounds nice, but it marked only 40% of the $2.1 million goal.
The shortfall wasn’t due to any shortcoming amongst the folks behind the fundraising. And not because Franklin folks haven’t been sold on the merits. There’ve been other factors at play.
The economy is still miserable for many, including suburbanites who’ve not been immune to its effects. Project Chairman Bartels admitted as much in his announcement letter.
Also consider the timing of the fundraising group. The campaign to put the bite on people was launched after a highly publicized push for not one, but three costly referenda, after questionable spending for a concession stand and restrooms was approved, and was conducted after another school property tax levy increase was approved.
It’s highly likely that many Franklin folks thought to themselves the school district was already getting millions of dollars via two expensive referenda that they may have supported (albeit not for the same purpose as the Stadium Project). I’ve done my part, they may have thought, so why should I give again?
A few months ago I was having a discussion about this very issue with a public school insider from our area. So what’s going to happen now?
We knew what Bartels wrote in that letter:
“Our goal is to raise money via private and corporate donations to fund this project while not using public funds!
Even so my colleague and I agreed the fundraisers would, when in trouble, pull out their trump card and seek help from the Franklin School Board and that the School Board would cave.
FranklinNOW provided the update recently.
Preferably, the grassroots effort would have been successful, avoiding the use of tax dollars.
The Saber Stadium Project will, as it states, “continue to fund raise for the foreseeable future to provide as many private funds as possible.”
The current amount raised is $887,525.
I wish this project the very best. I would strongly encourage people give what they can. But again, keep in mind the timing and the reality. Word is out that you needed $2.1 million, you raised 40%, and then elected officials bailed you out with $2.4 million from funding that has already been budgeted.
It’s not that the project isn’t worthwhile. It’s that the folks on the receiving end of your sales pitch could very well be dealing with certain economic perceptions affecting their ability and/or willingness to donate.