I am writing this as a reminder to the voters of the Butternut School District about what a recall election could entail if it happens on Dec. 14, 2021.
The election is in the hands of the Wisconsin Election Commission in Madison. There are numerous questions about the legal gathering of signatures and nonresidents signing the petitions.
I want to let most school district voters know that I do appreciate all the messages, calls and personal discussions on this recall.
I have had the privilege to serve the residents of Butternut for more than half my life. I have served 15 years as a Town of Agenda official in the past. I have 31 years on the Butternut School Board. I also have nine years on the Ashland County Board and serve as the Vice Chair.
I take my responsibilities seriously. I was taught early in life that public service is something to be proud of and many people would rather sit in the background and throw stones than dedicate their life to serving. I got on the school board years ago when people like Jack Koch and Joe Radlinger encouraged me to run. I did not win my first race but kept getting involved and eventually won a term and never lost faith in the area residents.
I have always put the district first. One thing to know is that I or any other single board member has never made any changes or policy by themselves. It takes a majority of the board members to make changes. After two meetings the school board made the decision to mandate masks until the Health Department says the cases have declined to keep the staff, students, and community safe from the spread of COVID.
Now to current events. No matter what someone tells you this recall is simply about masks. The Mercer, Mellen and Chequamegon schools have already had to shut down this year for a period and so far the Butternut school has not. We could tomorrow, no one knows. The COVID cases are still expanding. We listen to the CDC and the Ashland County Health Department for guidance. The alternative to not wearing masks is to spread the virus. If the school had to shut down then what would you tell the parents? What working mom and dad wants to struggle to figure out what to do with their children if they are home.
The role of the school board is to make sure the students get the best education possible without any undue interruptions. If you look at Wisconsin law a school board meeting is a meeting of the school board and not a meeting of the public. These are not my words but of the laws of Wisconsin.
I want to highlight some of the biggest things that could not have happened without the many board members of the past that have worked so hard to keep a school in Butternut.
In the mid 2000’s we were facing student declines. I asked Kristin Silva of Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development, Inc. in Madison to come to Butternut and talk about the housing shortage in the hopes we could get a grant to build affordable housing to keep and attract more residents to the area. At the Board meeting that she attended she told us that grants can take time, but members of the Besse foundation were in attendance and asked what it could cost to build housing.
After that meeting John Besse said he would fund a project to start a housing project. This became the start of the housing project that helped build multiple houses that became part of the tax base increase for the village and school.
The housing helped people move into houses and if they had a house that became available for others to move into. When the school board inquired of John Besse about funding issues the board members traveled to Escanaba, Michigan to meet with Besse where he committed $10 million dollars to the school district in hopes that Butternut would survive 10 years.
That was in 2008. Today, 13 years later as of Oct. 14, 2021, the school district operations fund had $4,617,602 in it and the scholarship fund is at $4,927,521.
This is good news that we have gotten to 13 years and are still around. This does not mean it is going to get easier as our enrollment continually falls. In the 1980s we had 356 students and today we have 133. We need to look at every avenue to keep our school. Without a school we become a town without an identity.
I am very proud of our school. I have three children who went through this school and they are very successful due to the great education they received. We need to get back to working as a community and stop tearing the place apart. Our goal is the education of the children and that is where the focus needs to be.
In closing I want to say I will always be positive that the community can overcome differences and make this the place people want to live and send their children to school.
Gary A. Mertig