Wausaukee Will Keep Its School!
There was celebrating in the halls of the Wausaukee School Wednesday morning, Oct. 1 as students learned their school will continue to exist. Ranger Pride will be kept alive.
After formal deliberations in the Wausaukee auditorium Tuesday evening, Sept. 30, the Wisconsin School District Boundary Appeals Board voted 7 to 1 to disallow dissolution of the district.
Turnout at the districts annual meeting Wednesday evening is expected to be heavy.
Because of a second failed resolution to provide the funds they needed to run the district, and in the face of a rapidly growing negative balance in the general fund, Wausaukee School Board in July had reluctantly approved a resolution asking the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to allow dissolution of the district. Even as they voted, all board members indicated a strong hope they could find a way to keep the school open.
Administrator Jan Dooley had warned her board before the vote that once the wheels for dissolution were set in motion only a decision by the Boundary Appeals Board could stop them, but if they delayed action, the general fund deficit would grow larger, perhaps doubling from the $249,000 deficit this year, because action could not be taken for another year.
Had the boards resolution to dissolve been approved by the Boundary Appeals Board, students and properties in the district would most likely have been divided between Crivitz, Marinette and Beecher/Dunbar/Pembine school districts.
However, in response to requests from the public, Wausaukee School District voters in August were once again asked to tax themselves enough to keep the school going and get its books back in the red. A referendum to raise property taxes $675,000 per year over the state levy limit for each of the next 10 years was overwhelmingly approved by voters on August 19.
After a spirited campaign by community leaders, the outcome was 1,234 in favor of the higher tax levy and thus in favor of keeping the school, to 672 against.
That public support played a large role in the Boundary Appeals Board decision.
Wednesdays session was the second held in Wausaukee by the Boundary Appeals Board. Turnout - perhaps 35 people - was surprisingly light considering the emotional outpouring of public support of the district after the boards vote for dissolution.
The Boundary Appeals Board began its evening at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday by hearing more testimony from area residents and reviewing additional information provided to them from adjoining school districts. They then deliberated on the basis of pre-set criteria for dissolution of a school district established by the state DPI, and finally itemized their rationale before the unanimous vote.
1. Geographical considerations: Distances children would have to travel to and from school in already geographically huge and sparsely populated districts and time they would have to spend on the bus.
2. Educational needs, programs currently offered by each affected school district, and ability and commitment of each school district to meet those needs and continue to offer these educational programs.
Conclusion was that the adjoining districts do offer more classes, but at the same time, students in this district will get the education they want within budget limitations, and they do meet state and federal requirements.
3. If territory is detached from one district and attached to another, would there be a detrimental effect on curricular and extra curricular aspects of the currently offered programs.
The appeals board concluded the effect would be detrimental. Several fine programs, particularly in the areas of Math and Gifted and Talented would be diluted. Board members commented community spirit is based on Ranger Pride.
4. Testimony of residents of affected school districts.
Results of the referendum say it all, commented Appeals Board member Mary Maloney.
All the great testimony we heard overwhelmingly was in support of keeping the district open, Tony Evers said. Others agreed.
5. Estimated fiscal effect of the proposed reorganization on the affected school districts.
The districts most likely to be affected had cited the overwhelming problems of taking on Wausaukee debt and the high transportation costs they would face.
6. This criteria, regarding non-contiguous areas, did not apply.
7. Socioeconomic and racial composition of pupils. Over 48 percent of Wausaukee students are eligible for free or reduced price lunches, which was seen as an extremely high indication of low income families. Putting these students on busses for long trips would be difficult for them and reduce the likelihood of family involvement in their education, Therese Travia commented. Other board members agreed.
8. Referendum results. This was perhaps the most significant factor. The people have spoken very loudly that they want their district kept open, the board concluded.
Moderator for the hearing was Boundary Appeals Board Secretary Elizabeth Kane. Deputy State Superintendent of Schools Evers was on hand as was Jerry Landmark, Assistant State Director for School Financial Services.
Members of the Boundary Appeal Board include Evers; Rick Eloranta, of Owen-Withee School District, CESA 10; Dennis Kavanaugh, Oshkosh Area School District, CESA 6; Maloney, Green Bay Area School District, CESA 7; Steve Pate, Portage Community School District, CESA 5; Patricia Silver, Riceland School District, CESA 3, and Travia, South Milwaukee School District, CESA 1.
Speakers at Tuesdays hearing were Mary Alice Rowley, who said she represents three generations of family involvement at Wausaukee; Tammy Schlies, who headed the Save Our Schools campaign to get the referendum passed; Mary Marquis, who spoke on behalf of Citizens for Sustainable Education and finding regional solutions in the face of declining enrollments and funding formulas unfriendly to rural districts; Shirley Prudhomme who spoke on the school as the economic and cultural hub that keeps a community viable, and little Alexis (Lexi) Clark, who told the panel, I dont want to lose my school. I dont want to lose my friends. I really want to grow up in our Wausaukee school.
Dooley fielded numerous questions from the panel, mostly concerning educational programs, distance learning offerings, music and art opportunities for students, foreign languages, and some innovative plans for multi-age classes and integrated learning that she feels will be beneficial to students.
We have been given a gift of 10 years by our community, Dooley declared. She said they will do some strategic planning toward the changes to come, Some departments of the past will take shape in a different form,and there will be greater efforts to connect with business and industry. She said the district has some excellent teachers, and has already embarked on a program to train staff in the integrated learning concept. The district also found it possible to continue the SAGE program by adding one kindergarten teacher, and Dooley thanked the DPI for allowing time for them to get all the information that made it possible to continue the program.
Grant writing willbe a part of what we do, Dooley told the board, indicating they will particularly seek grants for math and science programs.
Board Treasurer Dave Kipp answered numerous questions concerning current school finances and projections for the future. He spoke on the need to quickly pay off high interest unfunded retirement liability acounts and said once that is done they will work to build up a general fund balance that will eliminate the need for short term borrowing.
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