Those determined to change the school funding formula plan the next step
By Eileen Persike
Being optimistic by nature, School District of Rhinelander Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said she was always hopeful the $15 million dollar referendum would pass. Once that optimism was rewarded, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“I’m just really excited – all the hard work paid off,“ Jacobi said. “And you know, this is a great community and [the vote] showed that they understand the situation we are in and that it’s not a district problem – it’s a state problem and a funding problem.”
The electorate overwhelmingly approved the additional $5 million dollars per year for three years to cover operational expenses. Because Rhinelander is a property rich district, the state shifts funding responsibility to taxpayers.
Decreasing enrollment factors in, limiting the amount of revenue the school district can raise through taxes, thus making the referendum necessary. Staff cuts, the charter schools and all extracurricular activities were on the chopping block if the referendum had failed.
Parent Thomas Barnett began a petition late last year, in an effort to bring Gov. Scott Walker and area elected officials to Rhinelander for a town hall meeting to discuss the funding formula and how it negatively affects districts like Rhinelander. He said he is encouraged by the result of the vote but it’s not time to relax just yet.
“For me and a group of like-minded parents and professionals, this is just the beginning of the fight,” Barnett said. “I don’t think we need to be here in another three years worrying about another referendum because of an out-dated 23 year old funding policy.”
He and a contingent from Rhinelander met with Rep. Rob Swearingen, Sen. Tom Tiffany and Sen. Mary Cjaza last week to “start the discussion and hopefully start the ball rolling in the direction of change.”
Jacobi is in agreement that more work is necessary to get out of the three year referendum cycle.
“The frustration is definitely out there but it’s geared more toward what is not happening in Madison and not targeted at the school district,” she said.
“The people to blame for this referendum nightmare are the ones that sit down in Madison,” Barnett said.“If we expect anything to change, we need to focus our frustration toward those who are truly responsible: the policy makers that refuse to revise an outdated funding policy.”
The superintendent did say she would take some time to savor the moment.
“This was a team effort. A lot of people have been working very hard to get the information out there, fielding phone calls, doing presentations,” Jacobi said. “We’re moving forward. It’s great news and I am just very, very proud to be part of the Rhinelander community.”