Wausau City Council President Lisa Rasmussen speaks at an economic development committee meeting on Sept. 3, 2019

Damakant Jayshi

During a discussion this week that resulted in a elementary school being designated as an historic landmark, the Wausau School District faced sharp criticism for once again considering school mergers.

Dist. 7 Alder Lisa Rasmussen minced no words in denouncing the district and the school board for raising new discussions on the plan – despite a majority of people saying no to the idea repeatedly.

“I don’t know how many times public has to say no to something before people keep bringing up the idea and somewhere along the line to save operational dollars, creating half a dozen mega elementary schools is better than having 11 neighborhood schools that kids can walk to,” she said.

She reminded council members of the district’s prior attempt to tear down Grant Elementary school through a referendum that failed, prompting the city to designate the 100-year-old building on 500 N. Fourth Ave. as an historic landmark.

“When we landmarked Grant, we intentionally landmarked it to get in front of the process that was moving way too far, way too fast,” Rasmussen said on Tuesday. “It had a dismal public engagement, it had terrible communication to the affected families and the students. And the only way we could get in front of that process to slow down that steaming train was use that tool.”

That is not the case with John Marshall since there is no final plan for this building yet, she said.

“Obviously hearing the things that came out of the board this week, I will say I am glad I don’t have a kid in public school anymore,” Rasmussen said. “Because I’ll say it again: neighborhood schools matter to neighborhoods.”

But Dist. 4 Alder Doug Diny objected to remarks regarding “mega schools”, saying he had hard time in assigning sinister motive to the school district.

The Wausau School Board on Monday directed district administration to prepare a plan to merge elementary and secondary schools as part of the restructuring of the district. 

The plan would entail closure of at least some elementary schools. District officials said they want to hear from staff and community before moving ahead.

“It’s also important to note, while there have been some conversations about what a restructure in the Wausau School District could look like, at this point in time, there is no plan,” the district said in the statement on Monday. There is difference within the district staff as well as in the community over whether restructuring is the right solution even if there is a broad agreement over the challenges the WSD faces.

Rasmussen pointed out the district’s plan to separate restructuring proposal from the referendum package. After a backlash against potential merger proposal last year, the board and district officials dropped the idea.

“They gutted the work at the elementary schools on purpose so they could start this conversation again,” Rasmussen said.

The new referendum passed in April. The district is currently discussing various merger proposals.

“The path that we see this board over there taking is that this is less about families, neighborhoods and kids and it’s more about money and control,” Rasmussen said. “And that disappoints me. But I don’t think there’s anything we are going to do to fix that. That only gets fixed through election.”