Dear editor, 

As a parent of a second- and seventh-grader this hits very close to home. I want what’s best for my children but also what is best for others. Yes, teachers are spread thin in some (Wausau) schools and not in others. Yes, those with special needs do not get the help they need due to a lack of resources. And, yes, the east side (of Wausau) has a smaller population than the west at the high school level. But I do not agree with merging to one high school, to splitting out 4K students from the elementary school or moving fifth grade to middle school. All for the simple fact that the high schools cannot figure out how to work together to offer kids the same opportunities no matter the side of the river they are on? The competition is supposed to be between students in sports and academics not the teaching staff.

There has to be a better way and since the Wausau School Board will not look outside the small box they are confined in, the community needs to put a stop to these drastic changes. Who knows, maybe if they didn’t waste money on changes that don’t need to be done they could offer teaching staff more incentive to come to Wausau or stay in Wausau. The $400,000 that is predicted as extra bussing costs could sure be split amongst many. Is this decision by the board being made in the best interest of the students and staff or is it being made as one big political move to be added to a resume?

Implementation (talk about jumping with both feet):

Option 1. Staggered implementation starting fall 2024 (next year folks)

Has it been considered how parents feel about bussing 4-year-olds? Sure, many parents wouldn’t think twice but many parents prefer to drive their children instead of shipping them on a bus and can currently do so. These parents that don’t want to bus their kids and have a child in 4K and a child in say third grade cannot be at two schools at once, and many of them will still need to get to their jobs, so driving all over town dropping kids off will be inconvenient.

With this in mind, it would be best to leave the 4K students in the elementary schools, even if it means you cannot close a school.

Also, implementing anything right now would be reckless. They will lose more students. They will upset many in the community, and, first chance given, they will be voted off the board.

Transportation (what a mess):

Listening to the transportation plan outside of the details on the slides, all the conversation is pure speculation.

Comments from the board like “Many don’t use the bus even though they qualify. Many will drive their kids to the shuttle/school. This is what happens now, etc.” This is speculation not facts.

Parents that sign up now but kids don’t use the bus are not considered actual riders, so they want a count on this thinking these kids don’t matter. If these kids that may not always use the bus now suddenly have to go across town, who is to say the parents will still drive them? What if they live on Pit Road (furthest point east) and mom or dad drops them off at East on the way to work because they can? Well, if they now have to go to West it may not be convenient for them to be dropped off. Under the current arrangement they may not be an actual rider, but if the high school is on the west side they may have no choice. These kids should not be excluded just because they are not a frequent rider now. They still qualify, and they still need to be in the headcount. What if start/stop times change? This will also change whether or not parents can drive their kids, in all schools. I’ll get to bell times more later.

Parents may drive them to the shuttle, or they may walk to the shuttle. This is not an assumption that should be made. They should include any and all students that will qualify for bussing in the headcount. What happens today may not happen if schedules and locations are tossed in a mess. The last thing the WSD wants is to under count to try to save cost or limit the number of busses and then have too many kids on a bus. (You know they do have capacity limits.) Do they realize the Metro bus is already packed with standing room only, example X3 has two busses that come through Riverview. One for the high school and one for the middle school. The middle school bus is packed, (I can’t speak for the high school one.) so they would need to add another one to the route if they are going to be adding fifth-graders. Then they want to mix all grades on these busses. What parent is going to be comfortable with a 9/10-year-old (fifth-grader) riding on the bus with a group of 15/16-year-olds. Do you realize the mentality and behavioral differences in these age groups? I know this happens on the yellow bus currently, but the population is far less than the Metro busses. Assumptions need to stop being made to pad things in the benefit of making a plan work. True data needs to tell the story of whether or not it will. This isn’t even including the extra costs involved (over $400,000 that they estimated), how they’re going to get (and keep) enough bus drivers to get our kids all over town and get everyone where they need to be on time and safe.

Bell times (another mess):

So they want to alter the start and stop of the school day (at all levels) to make this work. Have they asked working parents how this is going to affect their work schedule? What if a parent now is on a bus route but because of their work schedule they don’t actually register for the bus because they can take their child to school? If these times are changed, they may have to put their child on the bus. Elementary starts at about 8:30. Kids cannot be dropped off before 8:15, depending which direction the times go depends on the capability of the parents. Now the drop off could be a bus rider or the bus rider could be a drop off. What if the parents’ job requires them to punch a clock and there is no flexibility and you suddenly change the bell times? Are you going to provide free care at the school either before or after for these children now impacted because of work schedules?

What if the busses cannot get to the schools in time with all the stops in between? Usually, elementary is the last pick up. Are you going to make these kids stand and wait? Is the school going to have extra resources available for these occurrences? Are you going to communicate with parents as to why their 6-year-old isn’t home on time. You know, parents tend to worry.

Referendum advisory question:

It was mentioned they could put a possible advisory question on the ballot in April 2024 (and they were talking about closing Hewitt Texas and moving 4k students to Hawthorne Hills in September 2024). That is an entire year away. Does that mean they will stop all planning until they “hear” the community’s voice? Or will they just continue with their planning and not give a care in the world when the community voice is against them? I think if they really want to hear the community, they will get a question ready for this April. They have time, but I have a feeling they don’t want to know what the general community thinks. It seems like all survey participants, questions and results have been designed in their favor. They selected who the surveys went to, they worded the questions, in a unclear fashion, to leave room for interpretation and they see the results the way they want. Keep in mind surveys were done in 2019 and 2021. Covid happened, board members changed, parents have changed. What people wanted in 2019 may not be what they want in 2022/2023, and it may not even be the same people.

Being heard (or not):

Throughout this whole process, no one on the board has listened and heard the community. If they do respond, it’s a general canned response, no emotion, no empathy, no understanding, no personal feelings behind it. I tried to keep an open mind because some of the points made, large elementary class sizes, lack of childcare, and lack of resources in the classroom, made sense and do need addressing, but the board is pushing too much and too fast. Why do they need to move everything from 4K all they way to 12th grade? One item continuously mentioned is the differences in the high schools. West has this but East has that, and transportation is an issue along with standard periods vs. mods. Well, if they can’t figure out transportation for a few students between high schools, how are they going to figure out transportation for 1,300 students that will be impacted by changing everything?

I have sent countless questions, concerns, thoughts via their online form on the website, but I have never heard any of these be addressed, either from myself or from others. This makes me think while they say, “We know this is a complex topic with a lot of information. If something is not clear, or you have questions that remain unanswered, please let us know. You can do that by filling out any one of the surveys above. We are reading each and every response.” they are not actually paying attention. They would be taking the time to address the questions and concerns in an open forum to let the community know they are hearing us. They have yet to do this. They have yet to set up a public meeting to go through any of the responses they have received here. If they don’t let us know they are addressing them, if they don’t answer the questions, or address the concerns, how do we know they care what we have to say?

The proposal of this plan for restructuring was noted in an email back on Oct. 22, 2021, between Keith Hilts and Jon Creisher. It was swept under the rug and kept quiet due to them wanting the referendum to go through in April. Mind you this is where they stated no schools would be closing. Boy, did they have us fooled!

Sub committees (or private planning sessions):

Sub committees were formed in the best interest of making this plan go forward, it was mentioned that they included the public but I and anyone I asked had never seen or heard word of these sub-committees until well after. The meetings were held all summer, members were cherry picked and they were completely hush-hush. I was finally added to the list in November and attended one meeting on Nov. 29, 2022. This was well after all the individual meeting had concluded and decisions had been made. I was only added after I had asked what I can do to be more involved during a discussion with Dr. Hilts and Mr. Bouche after a public meeting at one of the high schools. Little did I know the discussions were pretty much done and now it just seems like the board is doing what they can to make this plan work.

Jamie Hoover 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 or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.