Florence County votes to save school district
The seven-member State School District Boundary
Appeals Board voted unanimously Tuesday (November 15, 2005) to
keep the Florence County School District open. The vote followed
the approval November 8 of a referendum that provides enough money
to continue providing education to the district's students.
There was an air of excitement at Florence County schools Wednesday
(November 9, 2005), the day after residents voted to save their school
district from closure.
"The excitement students showed on Wednesday was sheer joy that
they have their school back," said teacher Nick Baumgart. "The
underclassmen will graduate as Florence Bobcats. Now students can go
back to being students and enjoying their high school years. Teachers
can teach without the burden of not knowing what the future holds."
In a binding referendum that is expected to prevent the district from
being dissolved, residents voted 1,424 to 1,253 to exceed revenue caps
by $4.75 million over five years.
In an advisory referendum, only 443 voters said they
approve of dissolving the district compared to 2,210 who voted to keep
This was the county's fourth referendum since May
2004 on whether to exceed state-imposed revenue caps. The first three
The referendum allows the school district to collect
an extra $500,000 in property taxes this year, an extra $750,000 next
year, an extra $1 million in the third year and an extra $1.25 million
the fourth and fifth years. The money will go toward paying for minimum
programming requirements, transportation and building maintenance.
Tuesday's referendum was scheduled after the Florence
County School Board voted 6-1 in June to shutter the financially strangled
district which has 589 students and encompasses nearly 500 square miles
in the northeast corner of the state. Board members said they no longer
had the resources necessary to provide quality education to students.
The board's decision to dissolve the district is being
reviewed by a seven-member state School District Boundary Appeals Board
appointed by State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. It has until
January 15 to approve or disapprove the dissolution. Tuesday's referendum
approval will be taken into consideration by the appeals board.
Members of the Florence Education Association worked
with many citizens and local business leaders to drum up support for
"FEA members worked many hard hours to help this
referendum pass," Baumgart said. "The importance was evident
by the number of members who volunteered and the amount of time that
was put in. The teachers alone could not have done all this work without
the support and commitment of many community members and the local businesses.
This is a great example of a whole community rallying and working together!"
"This is like Christmas morning," business owner Dwaine
Drewa said the day after the vote. "People are smiling again and we
feel like we have a future," said Drewa, who owns and operates
the Florence Subway with his wife Ann.
Drewa, who has two children who graduated from the
Florence district, said the people who voted to dissolve the district
just don't make the connection between education and progress.
"For generations there have been a lot of depressed
people here, and I guess misery loves company," he said. "I always look
at things in life like a choice. Education allows you to have choices.
That's what we want for all of our children. Nothing is more important
Trouble remains imminent under state funding formula
District officials have said the state's 1993 school
district revenue control law is the primary cause of the district's
financial problems, combined with declining enrollment, escalating fixed
costs, a low property tax base, and the region's low incomes.
WEAC President Stan Johnson said that while he celebrates the outcome
of the referendum, he remains concerned about the district's long-range
future and the fate of school districts throughout the state that face
"I applaud the voters of Florence County for preserving
their local schools, the heart of their community," Johnson said. "But
Florence's situation is not unique, and I worry that many more communities
will experience the same upheaval, and even close their schools' doors,
if we do not change this state's school finance laws."
When a school district closes, adjacent school districts
inherent the students and the debts of the closed district. The last
time a Wisconsin school district was dismantled was in July 1990 when
the Ondossagon district merged with the Drummond, Washburn and Ashland
districts in the northwest corner of the state. But growing financial
problems are threatening the survival of many districts.
"When schools shut their doors they leave a void
that cannot be filled," Johnson said. "And the collapse of
a school in one district could trigger secondary death cycles in neighboring
districts that suddenly must take on the burdens of the closed district."
"We (the FEA) recognize that there are issues
and obstacles that lie ahead of us, but at least we know we have our
school," Baumgart said. "The unfortunate part of it all is
that somewhere another school is going to go through what Florence went
page on school funding
Posted November 9, 2005