The Chequamegon School District Listening Sessions have brought out a good deal of interesting topics for discussion.
Perhaps because of the nice weather and the summer weather, there were fewer participants than usual last week at the sessions held in Park Falls and Glidden.
But, those who turned out were obviously interested in what Chequamegon School District Administrator Mark Weddig had to say and were anxious to add their own comments.
The sessions began as a need for better communications between the schools and the community.
Weddig spoke of the financial situation that the schools are finding themselves in which is commonly called deficit spending.
“That means we are spending from our fund balance,” Weddig said. “But the good news is that the projected deficit for the years 2018-19 was estimated to be at around $775,000, however it has turned out to be only $200,000.”
He noted that at some point down the road the district may have to come to the public and ask them to support their schools with tax dollars in the form of a referendum.
“Right now, it looks like we can push that back to 2024,” he said. “But, we want to keep that in our conversations so that the district taxpayers aren’t surprised. We want them to be aware of what may be coming.”
A second bit of good news financially is that the district has zero debt.
“We will probably continue to incur more debt over our ten-year plan for things like HVAC, carpeting, parking lots and other needs,” he said. “But, for right now, we have zero debt and we feel we’re in pretty good shape.”
The district, he added has done a good job of managing its finances — but that doesn’t mean that it might not need some help at some point.
In the area of working with the community, Weddig said that there was a recent agreement to work with the City of Park Falls to help with the costs of the new bleachers which will be in place for the fall season.
“We also have students, mostly juniors and seniors, who are out in the community improving their soft skills and shadowing employees who are working in an area that interests the students,” he said. “We have job sharing and school-to-work programs and also job apprentices.”
The Seeds to Table program has seen 20 gardening plots to be used by those who register.
“The only cost to the planters is to supply 20 percent of their crops to the Lord’s Cupboard so others may have some fresh food,” he said. “We’re also hoping to have a program offering information on how to put up fresh food through canning and freezing.”
There is also a strong backpack program filling backpacks with food for students who may not have any food in their homes.
Plans for an Early Learning Center, to provide care for infants through toddlers is nearing completion.
“We will house this program at the Park Falls Elementary as it has come to our attention that there is a huge need for child care,” he added. “We believe that the children who go to this learning center will be much better prepared for school and will be more comfortable in a school setting.”
The first accepted to this program, will be the children of the school staff members.
“We think we’ll be able to draw in real quality teachers if they have this program for their own children,” he said, adding that the program will be certified to accept Wisconsin Shares to help pay for daycare costs.
A great link between schools and community is the fitness center.
“We have businesses stepping forward to pay part or all of the fees for their employees to utilize our fitness center and also the pool,” he said.
There are also discounts or free passes offered to those employees who have been recently laid off from the Park Falls paper mill.
Then, Weddig provided updates in Our Five Schools. He noted that this is the third year of the inception of the strategic plan.
“I think we are starting to get some real traction and it has been valuable in so many ways,” Wedding said “I want to start people thinking of our district as five schools. There’s the Park Falls Elementary and Glidden Elementary and also Chequamegon Middle School in Glidden. Then we have the Class Act Charter School and Chequamegon High School.”
Weddig said that the community can look proudly on these five schools that provide educational opportunities for students.
“I’d like to point out that there is a real legacy with the Charter School and all of the forestry projects that have gone before,” he said. “When the forester was out helping students mark trees it was noted that some of those trees were planted in 1941 in a program that was set up in the days of Aldo Leopold.”
“We’d also like to give credit to the students in the Glidden Elementary where they exceeded in their math and reading tests by as much as 83 percent. The Park Falls Elementary was awarded by the DPI for the 4th year in a row for test scores compared to other schools who also have 50 percent free and reduced lunch students.”
“The Chequamegon High School continues to offer progressive tech education and has received $23,000 in grants so CHS students might attend tech classes fully funded,” he noted.
Susie Daniels of the Price County AODA/Mental Health Coalition said there are numerous efforts being made in the area of alcohol and drug programs and she offered to give presentations in the schools for parents or educators or during the next listening session.
“Under the definition of mental health we have some serious concerns and we are working on these topics in all three districts [Prentice, Phillips, and Chequamegon] to make the connections and to assist with training in peer support to offer strength.” Daniels said.
There will be an open house at both building campuses on Aug. 26 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.