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Merrill Area School District still struggling with funding

WAOW Television

The Merrill Area Public School District is no stranger to funding issues.

Its operational referendum expired in 2022 and twice now voters in the district have chosen not to renew it.

Now, a new state budget has raised local government funding, but because of a 2017 law, Merrill won’t be able to cash in.

The Merrill Area Public School District had to make changes after voters chose not to renew its operational referendum last year.

In addition to losing property tax funding, federal COVID aid was drying up.

The district had to make cuts to some support staff, instructional coaches, an interventionist, administrative staff, electives, building budgets, athletic budgets, custodial staff, and other places.

“If you're taking a reduction at an elementary level, for example, the impact there is of increased class sizes and increased class sizes means that somewhere in this district or in other districts, there's students that aren't getting the access or the attention of the teachers that they had previously. Now, you know, it might be going from 24 to 26. But that's something,” he explained.

Now, a 2017 law could prevent the district from getting additional funding.

The law bars school districts with failed referendums from accessing increases in state revenue for three years after their referendum.

It was originally intended to discourage districts from resorting to referendums.

In June, Governor Tony Evers signed legislation increasing school districts’ funding limits.

Minimum revenue caps were raised from 10 thousand dollars per student to 11 thousand dollars, which Murray said was significant for a district like Merrill relying on this funding.

However, because of its failed 2022 referendum and the 2017 law, Merrill wouldn’t be able to access this new funding.

“We've been following pretty closely that there's kind of a bipartisan effort to revisit that [2017 law] and have that penalty taken off the books and we're hopeful that that will happen and that we'll be able to take advantage of those revenues coming into this year,” said Murray.

Some state lawmakers are working on a bill that would change the 2017 law and allow districts like Merrill to get the funding increase.

The bill was introduced to the Senate Committee on Education this week.

For WXPR News, I’m Hannah Davis.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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