There are many in the Wausau School District who have fond memories of their neighborhood schools. There was a time when our public schools were revered and well funded. However, for some years our state legislators have not shown that reverence and have failed to adequately fund the schools we, and people across our state, care about.
Unfortunately, nostalgia and a search for a bygone ideal do not produce dollars. We are currently faced with hard choices. Are we going to invest money in brick and mortar and a nostalgic view of the past, or with some sacrifices, move forward to create for all of our children a more solid and sustainable system that will carry us into the future? Do we wish to choose a path with the high risk of having to turn to taxpayers still again to pass referenda to underwrite costs for even older schools? How many future referenda will district residents agree to underwrite?
In the discussion of the future of our district, the issue of “equity” is raised often and without much explanation. We need to be careful when we characterize people with social and economic disadvantages as victims. We can acknowledge their past struggles and the hardships and problems they currently face and express our wish to problem-solve with them. But to convey to them an unprovable proposition that the decision makers in their school district are purposely working against them and their children serves only to erode their sense of self esteem and positive attitudes about their children’s educational futures.
I’d suggest that those who care about equity consider a different perspective and approach should the board make the hard decision to consolidate schools. First, getting on a bus to go to school is not in itself demeaning or always problematic. Thousands of children in rural areas are on buses in excess of two hours every day. I lived in such a district and children managed long bus rides just fine.
How about this message to families whose children will be changing schools and having to ride buses for the first time: “Bussing will take your children to very good schools with some extra opportunities, and we think it will save you from having to pay higher taxes in the future.”
Those who want to ensure student success might consider rolling up their sleeves and volunteering at our schools. If bussing for more young children becomes a necessity, what about organizing an Easy Rider adult volunteer group to ride the buses with children. Adults could aid bus drivers and help make bus interactions fruitful and fun. Whether or not adults are on the bus with them, parents could encourage their children to sing a little, read or have good conversations with friends. Some kids of course would focus on cellphones and others would sleep, both of which they’d likely be doing at home. If buses are taking younger students to schools with large gyms and other sports facilities, how about working on skill building and physical fitness with them?
There are countless other volunteer opportunities, such as tutoring or bringing musical, theater and artistic enthusiasms and skills to those students with untapped interest and talent.
Our feuding around the future of the Wausau School District needs to be toned down. We should make efforts to promote cooperative interactions. Parents who have questions should email school administration and board members or invite them to meetings with the goal of having civil discussions. We will not all agree, but we can all show respect for one another. We can support and help each other and our children in making our future schools better.
Jean Fisher of Wausau
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