Referendum passage will eclipse opportunity for consolidation | Bob Blake

We are being told that this over-$13-million project is necessary to “build for the future” so we can provide a “21st-century educational experience.”

Do we even know what a 21st-century educational experience will look like? It will almost certainly involve a greater use of computers and online educational options.  We need to focus on how to expand the educational options available to our students rather than consider a $13 million districtwide face-lift. I don’t see how a new weight room or new football field or renovating classrooms without a plan for more effectively utilizing them improves the educational experience for our students. We will still be offering too few class options to too few high school students.

We all want our schools to be safe for the students and staff. Unfortunately, politicians always politicize these tragedies and shift the discussion to a debate about the NRA or the Second Amendment rather than attempting to actually make our schools safer. The school in Florida had state- of-the-art security but the killer knew that when students were entering or leaving the building before or after school the system was deactivated. One thing that is clearly not working is the nonsense of gun-free zones. Posting a sign on a building advertising the total vulnerability of the people in the building is hideous nonsense and should stop immediately.

Unfortunately, the board and neighboring boards avoid addressing the real problem these small rural districts are facing. Declining enrollment and what to do about it should be the primary topic of concern in all three districts. Luck and Siren are about 17 miles apart and Frederic is just about in the middle. All three district have about 470 students each or about 35 kids per grade. All three have found they can no longer field 11-man football teams. If you can’t field a football team how many kids are able to take physics, advanced chemistry, solid geometry or calculus, if in fact these courses are offered at all?  My guess is that all three districts struggle to offer a variety of educational choices to their students.

The school boards in Frederic, Siren and Luck need to take advantage of this unusual opportunity to sit down together and have a meaningful, public discussion about the best interest of the students and taxpayers.  While I don’t have any confidence this will happen it is a discussion that really should take place.

While all 15 of these school board members all promised to act in the best interest of the students and taxpayers when they ran for office, many of them tend to be more interested in protecting the image of the town that elected them. People have and will say, “If we lose our school, the town will have no identity.” Is it the school board’s job to enhance the image of the town in which the building sets?

The towns in the Unity district offered these same excuses 40 years ago, but now 40 years later they have a good school system, with educational options offered to their students and Balsam Lake, Milltown and Centuria are all still there and not much better off and not much worse off than their neighboring towns that have schools.

The current financial condition of all three of these districts provides an opportunity for a serious discussion of the benefits of consolidating two or even three of these districts.  If Frederic approves this ill-advised referendum the opportunity for that discussion will be gone for at least 15 or 20 years because neighboring districts will not want to assume Frederic’s debt.

The time to solve this problem is now. Let us not approve this referendum and increase in our operating levy until the local school districts in Luck, Frederic and Siren all sit down and come up with a viable plan that addresses the solution to the problem of declining enrollment. Just vote no!

Bob Blake

Rural Frederic