I know I will likely catch some flak from some people for writing this to the editor, but I can’t help but speak up on this issue regarding the Wausau School District and the restructuring they want to do. We’ve heard all the stuff from parents:
· I want my neighborhood elementary school.
· I don’t want my kid to ride a bus.
· My child will have fewer opportunities.
· My child won’t have meaningful relationships.
…. the list goes on and on. I think many of them are exaggerating their concerns a bit too much. Parents even went as far as creating an online petition (something that rarely ever amounts to anything), which only got around 1,500 signatures (as of Feb. 28), or 3.79 percent of the population of the city (a very small amount). Even more laughable, the media appears to be eating up this whole drama, making it sound like the entire city of Wausau is giving a huge resounding “NO” to the school board. However, that is not true. I’ve talked to many people as well on the subject. I’ve heard they are for some of the restructuring plans, while others say there needs to be a whole revamp of the school district. With that said, what about those people? What about the people who have a different opinion from the typical status quo of complaining parents? Are they allowed to have an opinion on the matter? Will they ever be heard?
Well, I do have an opinion, I believe I’m allowed, and I feel people like me should be heard. So here we go.
First off, yes, my wife and I both went to public schools. Secondly, yes, I do have a child. Lastly, no, my child does not go to the Wausau School District. My wife and I opted for the private school system as they have a better environment focused on education than what is currently provided by the Wausau School District. But, before you start to mob rush me with “Then your opinion doesn’t matter” comments, I’ll explain why mine does.
You see, I’m also a taxpayer. My taxes, along with the many other taxpayers in Wausau who either:
1. Have a child enrolled in a private school, or are home schooled (something that has increased in popularity in the last 5-10 years)
2. Do not have any children (something that has increased a lot in the last 20+ years)
3. No longer have children as they are all 18+ years old
4. Provide funding to allow the “complaining parents” children to go to a public school for relatively no extra cost. So, as much as many of us would rather not have a vested interest in the school district, we are forced to. It’s a harsh reality, but it is reality. Trust me, we would love to have our taxes decrease.
Now that the blunt introductions are done, I’ll go into my concern about the subject of the Wausau School District’s plight: The elementary schools.
The Wausau School District has 13 elementary schools. That’s right. Thirteen. For a city of only 39,000 people. That is a lot compared to other cities in Wisconsin with similar populations. For example, New Berlin has a population of 40,000, but only has four elementary schools. Menomonee Falls, a city with a population of 38,000, only has four as well (they also only have one middle school and one high school). They all run very well based on testing standards (which can be found online), and their city demographics are not too far off from our own.
So, why do we have 13 elementary schools then? Well, plain and simple, the parents and students are spoiled. It’s more a matter of convenience to them. They pine over the whole “neighborhood school” concept. Well, that may have cut it back in the day, but in today’s world, it doesn’t. Enrollment has been decreasing over the last 20+ years in the school district (with no sign of increasing anytime soon). Combine that with more people living on the west side of Wausau than the east side, and you have very askew school enrollment. Add the issue of being over $4 million dollars behind on the inflationary pace, having two of three major referendums fail at the ballot box in the last few elections, and increase complaints from taxpayers for a budget that seems to be increasing every year, you see why the Wausau School District is realizing it isn’t fiscally responsible to run things like they are now.
There needs to be a change, and I say the elementary schools should be the first thing on the proverbial “chopping block.” Start combining the elementary schools together into larger schools of about 300-400 students. Then close and sell the properties of the ones you don’t need. This should recoup and lower operational costs and eliminate having some teachers that currently travel to multiple schools in a day, while still providing the same environment and education students will need. If other cities operate their elementary schools this way, why can’t Wausau?
Likely parents won’t agree to this, so instead let’s talk about other options. The district could start making them pay an additional tuition per child per year to offset the higher costs. Or, they could always reduce and/or eliminate some school programs to get within their budget. You see how things could be so much worse?
Now, I’m not for everything on their restructuring plan. I think the middle and high schools are fine the way they are … for now. In the short term, I agree with a previous opinion article by Fred Tealey of Wausau, who mentioned redrawing the boundaries for the high schools. However, I think that should also apply to middle schools as well. Why does the Wisconsin River need to be the end all, be all of deciding who attends which middle or high school? In order to get balance and justify the need of having two middle schools and two high schools, redrawing the maps will solve many issues while also not increasing much spending and travel times.
Long term though, I see one large middle school and one large high school in Wausau’s future again. It almost seems inevitable in the next 20-30 years if enrollment keeps decreasing the way it is.
Regardless of what you think of myself and others like me, I really hope the Wausau School District provides good education to the public school students, but they also need to be more fiscally responsible with the budgets provided from the taxpayers.
Matt Straub of Wausau
Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.