the Sauk Prairie School District voted to close a rural
elementary school. Merrimac Community Charter School
(Merrimac Elementary) was spared, but Caledonia Elementary
School wasn't so lucky as the Portage School District closed
several rural schools. School boards are in the same
position of looking for cost savings because of reduced states
aids as a result of lower revenues during this recession.
What is lost in the discussion is the value of these schools to
rural communities like Caledonia, and potentially Merrimac, if
the trend continues.
The Town of Merrimac and the
Town of Caledonia are huge contributors to their respective school
districts. Along with the Village of Merrimac, they contributed
$5,426,436.64 last year. That's an incredible $24,665 per student.
After school aids, the tax bill on a $200,000 home is $1,874.93.
During the last year as
Merrimac Elementary, Sauk Prairie schools reported it cost approximately
$15,000 per student to operate the building. As Merrimac Community
Charter School (MCCS), the average cost today is $7,250 per student.
Despite a 50% reduction in cost, MCCS is not only the top rated
elementary school in the Sauk Prairie School District (according to the
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction or DPI), it leads every
elementary school in Baraboo, Lodi, and the Portage school districts -
with the exception of Caledonia Elementary.
The Sauk Prairie School
district reports the average student cost is approximately $11,000.
The Merrimac community contributes approximately $21,000, while MCCS is
an estimated $7,250 (based on 2011 enrollment).
With the closure of Caledonia
Elementary, Merrimac families are left asking if Merrimac's closure
isn't a matter of if it will be closed rather than a matter of when it
will be closed. Is there another option?
Can we join another school
district? The surrounding school districts have similar
problems based on their current funding problems. Our
contributions are based on equalized value and ultimately, the funding
percentage will be comparable. DPI is also floating a fair funding
proposal that will offer more aid to these districts, but the plan is
not likely to become a reality. A quick analysis shows several
districts gaining, but the report doesn't show any losers in the
proposed formula. The reality is the plan is nothing more than a
plan to increase and redistribute school funding which will lead to
Are we too small to create
our own district and maintain a quality education? The
assumption is that small enrollments are not sustainable.
That definitely is not the case. There are several school districts with
enrollments under 300. A snapshot look at the Phelps School
District can stand as a model. Located in Vilas County, the
district has 195 students and an annual tax levy of $2,357,989 - or
$12,092 per student. If the Town of Merrimac, Town of Caledonia,
and Village of Merrimac were to combine and levy a tax equivalent to
$12,000 per student; the levy would be $2,640,000. The tax
bill on a $200,000 home would be $912.17.
Clearly the promise of a $900
tax bill is not enough, and probably not a reality because there would
be new infrastructure required, but it might be close. The obvious
question is quality of education. A quick run of the Phelps
district against the 10 largest districts shows their tests scores to be
as competitive, if not better, in most categories. Similar results
show when compared to the state average.
Click here for the supporting
documentation for this discussion.
The Town Board is not
necessarily advocating a new school district. Any movement would need to be citizen initiated and
would require a vote of all three communities.
The attached supporting documentation
utilizes 2012 property values and 2011 tax levies.