This past Saturday, I was overcome with gratitude. Walking into our high school, I saw someone setting up for a community event in the new, brightly lit commons. I am thankful for that woman carrying a cooler, helping her kids and mine. I am thankful for Rhinelander investing in our schools and creating a space in which we can all be proud.
In Rhinelander, we took care of our own.
That time is on us again. Due to our state funding formula’s failings, a formula that miscalculates our area as rich, we have to support our schools by investing extra. Until our legislators (new guys, but our guys, in Senator Tiffany and Assemblyman Swearingen) can assert Swearingen) can assert our collective will, helping their Northwoods neighbors, we are left to do for ourselves. We have before and will again.
I get that times are tight. But they will get tighter if ours is not a community with resources, of which a quality school system is one, which will hold professionals and businesses? Or one which doesn’t even entice them to come to begin with?
I get that people have particular gripes with the district. But are these so large as to punish everyone for the failings of one person or a few? Are these proportionate to the punishment that a dismantled district would be? I refuse to believe that bitterness and anger hold sway in our community. The world has recently seen too much of that to accept devastation of our schools as a response to bits of frustration.
Ultimately, without passage of a referendum, we will lose the S.A.G.E. program in our elementary schools and will be forced to stack children near 30 deep in front of a teacher tasked with reaching our youngest kids, many of whom are vulnerable and just need somebody with time to listen. At the other end of their days in school, the electives that give them hope in working toward specific careers will be severely limited. In between, kids trying to navigate their tempestuous middle school years will have less support in doing so.
The exact details of our kids’ losses are available on the district website for exact information in making choices. Our district has been provably frugal and students have done with less and less, but the newly proposed cuts that the referendum would prevent are at an unacceptable level of loss.
I understand that some will interpret this letter as the self-concern of a teacher. It is not about me, as my salary and employment will not be affected by February’s vote. Yet, as a teacher, I do have firsthand knowledge of what our schools mean in giving Rhinelander kids a hand up. I also have kids at grades 11, 8 and 5. This letter is my humble attempt to do my best by them.
So, thank you, ma’am, for carrying that cooler through the cold last Saturday. I believe in February our community will do the same, taking care of its own.
Gary Zarda, Rhinelander