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Evers announces additional school funding, but larger funding issues still loom for Northwoods districts

Photo by Katie Thoresen/WXPR

Like many districts around the Northwoods the Chequamegon School District was hoping to start the school year with all of its open positions filled.

Instead, District Administrator Kyle Cronan says they’re still recruiting.

“We’re still in need of bus drivers. We just recently finished most of hiring with our teaching staff, but we’ve had several teachers come out retirement and come back to the ranks of teaching in order to make that happen,” said Cronan.

Governor Tony Evers recognizes this is not a unique issue.

It’s why he announced $90 million for schools on Tuesday. $75 million is directed to give districts flexibility to meet staffing needs, keep classroom sizes small, and provide other direct classroom support.

Chequamegon is getting just over $68,000.

Antigo Unified$ 194,696.00Merrill Area$ 221,221.00
Crandon$ 80,941.00Minocqua J1$ 53,140.00
Elcho$ 25,795.00Northland Pines$ 116,763.00
Florence County$ 42,020.00Phelps$ 10,027.00
Goodman-Armstrong Creek$ 9,388.00Prentice$ 34,364.00
Hurley$ 47,489.00Rhinelander$ 218,578.00
Lac du Flambeau #1$ 51,773.00Three Lakes$ 45,210.00
Lakeland UHS$ 67,542.00Tomahawk$ 103,820.00
Laona$ 21,603.00Wabeno Area$ 34,728.00
Mercer$ 13,399.00White Lake$ 14,493.00

Cronan says every bit helps, but consistent funding is key to stability.

“Most of the revenue in the past two years has been one time revenue. For instance, what the Governor announced today is one time revenue. So again, when you’re trying to plan for costs that carry on year, after year, after year, a one time shot in the arm is a great stop gap measure, but it doesn’t solve the bigger issues that we face in terms of the funding formula,” said Cronan.

Like many district administrators in the region, Cronan says the current funding formula doesn’t work for rural districts like Chequamegon.

In the last two years, Cronan says state has not given the district any revenue increase.

“Yet we’ve got inflation that is running wild and that increases all of our costs,” he said.

The issue is what leads many districts in the Northwoods to turn to voter support for operational referendums. As WPR recently reported, at least 50 districts in the state will be asking taxpayers for a record $1.9 billion in the upcoming election. Three Lakes, Rhinelander, and Merrill are among those that will be asking voters a referendum question.

Cronan says the $68,000 may help with offering affordable benefits packages or help with cost-of-living increases but doesn’t believe it will go far in recruiting staff.

“At the end of the day, when you employ 150, $68,000 doesn’t really go a long way,” said Cronan.

Mental Health Resources

In addition to $75 million Evers announced Tuesday, he also announced an additional $15 million for the “Get Kids Ahead” initiative to expand mental health resources.

A recent report from the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health shows the pandemic exacerbated mental health challenges kids and teens have been facing for years.

The ratio of mental health professionals to students in Wisconsin is far below recommended standards.

In April, Governor Tony Evers announced he’d be investing $15 million as part of the “Get Kids Ahead”.

Cronan says the district has used its initial $20,000 share to train staff in the LEO program.

It teaches staff about the science behind mental health and how to make changes improve your mental health.

“The two years with the pandemic, it’s taken a toll on not only our students, it’s taken a toll on our adults in our systems. Just trying to provide those resources where we can help our adults take care of themselves so then they’re in a better position to help take care of our students,” said Cronan.

With the additional funding to the program announced Tuesday, Chequamegon has been allocated a total of nearly 40-thousand dollars to expand mental health resources for students.

Cronan doesn’t yet know what the second round of money will go toward but knows it will be a challenge getting those resources.

“Everybody is going after the same resources. Every school district across the state is trying to find those resources. That actually creates somewhat of a scarcity,” he said.

All of the funding Evers announced Tuesday is from the state’s allocation of the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

It will be distributed to schools in the coming weeks.

Despite the challenges ahead, Cronan is excited for a new school year to begin.

“We’re excited to get this school year kicked off. This year is finally, in some ways, seeming like it may be a return to hopeful normal operations.”

Classes within the Chequamegon School District resume Thursday.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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