Eds Note: You may have noticed that Mr. Rosenberg and Dr. Rent are pretty much go-getters. Every Sunday each of these gentlemen send me their post for the week, regular as clockwork. And this week, they are not only on the same page, they are on exactly the same subject: schools. Must be a vibration in the universe. So, welcome to school week here on the Wausaublog. We’ll let Jim lead off and Dr. Rent bat clean-up. And I am pretty sure they are not clowning around.
I ran into the D.C. Everest Clown Troupe last June, well after school was out of session for the year. It’s a volunteer thing and a great example of what happens when creativity meets community service to positively influence both the young people involved and those that they come in contact with. They’re popular with all ages and they visit everything from grade schools with anti-drug messages to elderly care homes, where troupe members have said they feel especially valued by their audiences.
What’s that got to do with education and the mission of a school district? Everything and nothing, depending on the kind of community people want to live in.
The D.C. Everest School District has a lot on the line in their upcoming $4 million referendum to cover increases in operating costs over the next several years. As a fast-growing district in terms of enrollment, the Everest District is punished under the state aid formula, which takes three-year rolling average enrollments as the basis for payments to the district. That can essentially mean hundreds of unfunded students at any given time under the formula, which ordinarily covers approximately 70 percent of the cost to educate a student in the Everest District.
Look at it in this oversimplified way: if you added 250 students to the district, you would need 10 instructional staff, plus support, to cover it — and you might get very little additional state aid in the first year to cover that increased cost. Now presume some of those students are special needs, with an even lower teacher-pupil ratio. We hear a lot about declining enrollment in some school districts and the problems that creates, but increasing enrollment scenarios present their own challenges.
While families and students may seem like the direct beneficiaries of things like extra-curricular programs and enrichment experiences, maintaining an excellent K-12 education system is also an important economic development asset. People looking at our area look hard at the schools, along with the taxes.
D.C. Everest District Superintendent Kristine Gilmore understands that, which is why she’s is an active leader in the Marathon County Partners in Education group at the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce. Joining with other representatives of education and business, MCPIE helps tune the educational experiences of area students toward relevance in the fast-paced, information and technology-driven world that comes after graduation. Employers looking to maintain, expand or locate operations in our area have a great stake in seeing that there is a solid public school system. It helps produce a critical pool from which some of their future workforce will be drawn and it’s something that qualified potential employees right now look at as they make choices about where to live, work and raise a family.
Think about that as it applies to something like staffing the new St. Clare’s Hospital with medical professionals. Consider the kinds of people that Greenheck Fan needs to remain a viable and vibrant global competitor. There is a reason that the field house has that name it. That company has a lot more at stake when it comes to property taxes than any homeowner by many multiples and they care plenty about their operating costs, but you’re not going to see them taking a position opposing quality education.
I don’t live in the Everest district, but if I did, I would vote to invest what amounts to about 10 percent of my monthly cable bill to ensure continued excellence in the schools. Even if the growth rate slows, it won’t solve the budget problems of the next couple of years because of the lag inherent in the funding formula. Beyond the resources necessary to maintain high quality educational services, the voters will send an important message this month to young people, educators and everyone else about the priority that their community places on education. We’ll never know how many times over that $4 million may be repaid or the losses that could be compounded through the unrelated choices of businesses and individuals in the coming years who will be taking the message and its impacts to heart.