Cost per student Mercer $26,433,
Wis. $13,505, Nation $11,762
ACT comp. score Mercer 17.0,
Wis. 19.6, Lakeland UHS 20.0,
Hurley 18.7; perfect score 36.0
Mercer DPI Report Card score
lowest of all 421 Wis. districts

Friday, September 25, 2020

Thursday, September 10, 2020




Biting the Bullet



Many Wisconsin school districts appear to be more aware of the economic realities of maintaining small schools and are focusing on consolidating within larger school districts.  They also cite the academic advantages provided by larger schools.


Ben Meyer of radio station WXPR in Rhinelander did a news report about the controversial proposed closing of the 80-student Maple Grove Elementary School in the Merrill area school district.  “Disagreement Over Merrill School Symbolizes Rural Elementary Closure Trend in the Northwoods”, was the title of his comprehensive study.


Meyer reported that 27 elementary schools have been closed since 1993 in an eight-school district area which includes Rhinelander, Phillips, Wausau and Merrill.


The Mercer K-12 School District, with 145 students, has been involved in similar speculation.  Suggestions have included keeping the school as is or consolidating it with the Hurley School District and keeping the lower grades in Mercer while transferring the middle and high school students to Hurley.  


The argument has been made that because of Mercer’s small class sizes it does not have the advantage of the broad curriculum that a larger school provides.  Apparently for that reason, some parents have transferred their children out of the Mercer School to Lakeland Union High School in Minocqua. 


Years ago, the Mercer School Board discussed a possible consolidation with the Hurley School District but  gave up the idea because it was thought it would result in tax  increases for Mercer property owners.  However, recent studies by several people have indicated that a consolidation could now be done without any increase in school taxes.


It cost Mercer taxpayers $25,097 a year to educate each Mercer student.  The state average for all 421 school districts is $13,505, and for Hurley it cost $13,816 per student.


For that $25,097 per student cost, Mercer’s academic results have been abysmal.  A Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction school report card score of 50.4, “fails to meet expectations”, placed Mercer alone in that category and at the very bottom of the list of all the state’s 421 school districts.  Also, Mercer’s ACT scores have consistently been below averages for the state and all 20 Northern Wisconsin school districts.


Of course, those results were under the former administrator and his inept and culpable school board.  Mercer now has a new administrator and an entirely new school board.


As school districts face tight budgets, they often must choose between more physical schools or better programs, Meyer said in his news report. 


“Any time you close a building like that, it does become very contentious,” Meyers quoted Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance Executive Director Kim Kaukl as saying.  “What’s important for our kids? A building or strong programming?  To be viable, programming, to me, is always going to come out ahead.”


Maple Grove plays a role not just as a place of learning, but as a community hub. That’s common among rural schools, according to Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Deputy Superintendent Mike Thompson.


“There’s a lot of passionate ownership around that school, around the smallness of that school.  That’s really where there’s the tough decisions to happen,” Thompson said.


The money saved by closing Maple Grove is needed to improve programming and educational support across the district, according to Merrill School District Superintendent John Sample. “Right now, in my opinion, our student achievement is unacceptable, and that’s across the district.”


According to the latest DPI school district report cards, Merrill scored a 66.8, putting it into the “meets expectations” category, according to Sample.


“Yes, (Maple Grove is) holding their own as far as meeting the expectations, but I think the resources that we can provide in town (Merrill) are much richer than what they’re receiving right now because of where they’re located,” Sample added.


No comments:

Post a Comment