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Rural school forums to be held in Rhinelander, Merrill

UNDATED (WRN)   Saying students should have the best education possible, regardless of where they live, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) last week announced the formation of a bipartisan task force on rural schools. Chairman Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) says the task force will hear from district administrators about their concerns and frustrations, including potential consolidation.

“Declining enrollment certainly is a big challenge for these districts, high-cost transportation aid, the school funding formula certainly will be up for discussion, we want to look at what best practices are working from one district to the next and compare notes and see what’s working best where.”They’ll also discuss creating partnerships among school districts and maximizing opportunities to incorporate advanced technology. Swearingen says they hope to pick a lot of brains to get some insight on key challenges facing rural schools and potential solutions.

“I’m assuming that we’ll be able to reach out to school superintendents, presidents of the school boards, maybe even active business people in the communities, and just get our arms around what the major problems are facing these rural schools.”

Parental input, at some point, would also be welcome, he says. Representative Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) will serve as vice-chair of the task force. He’s a member of the Assembly Committee on Education. Clark says, “For much of rural Wisconsin, the identity and overall economic stability of their community is dependent on their public schools.”

A report on the findings and recommendations is expected early next year.

Committee members are expected to be announced this week. The first meeting will be in Rhinelander, Swearingen’s district, with a subsequent meeting to be held in Merrill.