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NEWS STORIES

Rural Schools Task Force recommendations expected by AprilSubmitted: 03/09/2014
Story By Lauren Stephenson


RHINELANDER - Superintendents at rural schools face challenges like growing poverty, declining enrollment, and high transportation costs.

The State Assembly formed the Rural Schools Task Force to find ways to help.

12 members of the State Assembly make up the task force.

They've traveled to schools around the state for the last six months.

They made two stops in the Northwoods.

The task force turned to superintendents, business leaders, and other community members to learn more about the challenges the schools and communities face.

The state did increase funding for schools in their most recent
budget.

But some rural school superintendents said the $150 per student budget increase this year wasn't enough.

They want the state's funding formula to change.

"Initially when we brought the task force together, the task force was charged to find solutions that didn't necessarily - weren't fiscal. And so what we found is these school districts are doing the best they can with the money they have. And unfortunately, a lot of these solutions will be fiscal. And so that could potentially be pointing to the next budget cycle," said Republican Rep. Rob Swearingen of Rhinelander, the Rural Schools Task Force Chair.

He says high transportation costs, poor broadband service, declining enrollment and lower teacher retention rates will most likely be addressed in the recommendations.

"The report is going to be generated hopefully here in the next week or so by legislative council. And then the task force will get a chance to look at the report and give our final recommendations to Speaker Vos."

The report is expected to come out at the end of this month or the beginning of April.

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MERRILL - Merrill may get a new grandstand by next summer.

On Monday the city sent out proposal requests for companies to bid on.

The grandstand will go in the Lincoln County Fairgrounds near the location of the old grandstand. That was destroyed in 2011 by a tornado. It sat about 1,800 people on benches, and city leaders said those seats were uncomfortable.

The new grandstand will fit between 2,500 and 3,000 people on stadium seating and benches with backs "to provide a much nicer venue for events," said Merrill City Administrator Dave Johnson. 

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MERRILL - Scheduling likely helped the Lincoln County Fair draw more people this year than last.

The fair took place July 22-26.

Last year, the fair was held the same weekend as the Wisconsin Valley Fair in Wausau.

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LINCOLN COUNTY - Police believe a Tomahawk man sexually assaulted a babysitter in his home.

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NORTHERN WISCONSIN - Many colleges across Wisconsin ban tobacco on campus. Now, Northcentral Technical College can join that group.

As of August 1st, all NTC campuses ban tobacco on campus, including chewing tobacco and E-cigarettes. NTC staff sees this as a way to protect student health.

"As we looked at the overall wellness of our students, staff, and our visitors, we felt like that shift was a positive shift to make," said NTC Director of Student Development Shawn Sullivan. "But we made that shift with the intention of also offering resources and services to those students and staff who are interested in quitting the use of tobacco."

The change got rid of designated smoking zones. NTC staff says student feedback has been positive so far.

"Students appreciate the fact that they don't have to walk through smoke or see the tobacco use on campus," said Sullivan. "Obviously there are some students who have questions and we've been dealing with those students individually, offering to have conversations with them to get their feedback, because we think everybody's feedback is important."

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- Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says he is still considering what steps to take next in reaction to new Obama administration rules designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.

We'll have the details on this story and more tonight on Newswatch 12 - news from where you live.

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MERRILL - The Merrill Police Department and Fire Department want people in the community to better understand the tools they use during emergencies. The groups teamed up to do live demonstrations at the third annual Merrill Community Night Out on Tuesday.

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