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School Funding and Merrimac Community Charter School

Last year, 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 higher taxes.

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.


Town of Merrimac

P.O. Box 115

Merrimac, WI  53561

(608) 493-2588