Eleven Assembly members from both parties came to Rhinelander Wednesday to learn more of the challenges facing rural schools. Ken Krall reports area school leaders had much to say.
The Speakers Task Force on Rural Schools first heard from Rhinelander Superintendent Kelli Jacobi who outlined Rhinelander's history, including cutting $11 million from the budget and closing five buildings, including 4 schools in the past ten years. She says a combination of factors are providing local schools with increasing problems, not the least of which is the drop in state aids...
She also cited declining enrollment, and the state funding formula which penalizes districts with lots of valuable property like Rhinelander, but have low incomes. Rhinelander has a large number of students who get free and reduced lunches.
Northland Pines Administrator Dr. Mike Ritchie agreed with Jacobi on many points, but said that district used the changes brought about by ACT 10 to reduce costs in the district.
Both leaders said transportation funding was crucial. Both large districts are spending close to $1.5 million dollars on busing. Both leaders also called for greater flexibility in mandated school scheduling, including starts dates. Both said more money for high-speed internet is needed. Both said a new bill requiring more physicial education would require layoffs in other areas to pay for the mandate. This is the first of four public session for the Task Force.
The Task Force is chaired by Representative Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander.