Avoiding Others’ Missteps – 2017

33cscreenshotPost 12 in a series.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that I would say a bit more about how not to go about a school budget referendum. The post had Milton, Wisconsin’s many mistakes in mind, but I held off posting on the subject because it seemed that the situation there would get worse, offering even more missteps for Whitewater to avoid. As it turns out, the situation in Milton has gone south over the last week. There’s no reason to take pleasure in that community’s mistakes, but they are instructive to others, Whitewater included.

We have had the benefit, for the most part, of placid times in the Whitewater Unified School District, with fewer controversies than many communities across Wisconsin, these last several years. Many communities have faced – to their detriment – more rancor than we have. That’s not merely to the benefit of our school district, but to the economy of the immediate area: harmony within the boundaries of the school district helps Whitewater’s economy by making the city more desirable to those in nearby towns, and of interest to those farther away.

I think this relative calm can and will continue. If we avoid a few obvious errors, we can manage well.

Looking at Milton, as that district’s referendum effort has progressed, one sees mistake after mistake, all avoidable, all self-inflicted. It’s quite a list: misdirected community surveys, confusion over basic goals, uncertainty over how to ask for community comments, conflicts between school board members (one has now resigned), ambiguous or disputed board resolutions (which might have been prevented by better draftsmanship), and critical press coverage of it all.

See, from the Gazette, Our Views: Just the FACTs: Milton School District’s missteps erode trust (subscription req’d), and Milton School Board member Janet Green resigns.

Whitewater was free from these problems during her last referendum, and likely will be again if there is a fall referendum. There are two reasons for this. First, we have had a generally cooperative board and administration, without rancor or (thankfully) conflict-inspired resignations. Second, in general, this has been a less antagonistic environment than many other districts have seen. It’s my guess – and it’s simply my guess, not a survey – that there’s less willingness to clash over education in this area than in others. Perhaps several factors are at play, but it’s been a relatively quiet time.

We can easily avoid winding up where Milton is.

There’s an obvious educational benefit to doing well and considering calmly, but there’s an economic benefit, too: one gains a comparative advantage as a community by avoiding obvious missteps that now trouble another, nearby city.

(About the picture for this series – it’s a screenshot of a calculator app for Android phones that emulates a Hewlett Packard 33C.  I used an HP calculator in school, and they were amazing machines.  My phone’s calculator app pays tribute to a fine machine of yore.)

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