Friday, July 01, 2005

Voting Itself Out Of Existence

A school district in northern Wisconsin is considering voting itself out of existence:
The rare step toward dissolving the school district was taken by the Florence County School Board on Wednesday, a day after its request for a $750,000 annual revenue boost for the next three years was narrowly rejected by voters.

"You reach a point where you say we have to make a stand for education," Florence Superintendent Jan Dooley said. "And our kids deserve a quality education in Florence."

Rather than continue to cut programs and services, Florence officials say dissolving the district will give students a chance in the surrounding districts that would be forced to absorb their children.

About 600 students are enrolled in the Florence school system, which abuts the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and encompasses 486 square miles. Other than the Menominee Indian School District, it is the only school district in Wisconsin that encompasses an entire county, according to Bob Soldner, director of school management services for the state Department of Public Instruction.
Among the reasons cited why finances are so tight is transportation costs. One bus must travel 116 miles daily while several others travel 80 miles or more. If the decision is made to dissolve the district, the district's assets (including campuses) would be divided-up among several adjoining districts.

In these times of tight budgetary restraints, I know that sometimes tough choices have to be made. But I hope in this case the district will find some way to continue operating. Schools need to be accountable to local constituencies, and in an area as large and remote as that served by the Florence County School District, the dissolving of the district would have the negative effect of removing that localized accountability.

What's going on in Florence is typical of the problems faced by many rural school districts around the country: It's all about the money. Many of these rural districts have trimmed just about all the "fat" that was in their budgets; they're down to muscle.
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