Will It Pass? Rhinelander Referendum DecisionSubmitted: 02/06/2013
Story By Lex Gray & Kira Lynne

RHINELANDER - No one wants to pay higher taxes.

But Rhinelander, Northland Pines, and Three Lakes school districts are asking you for more money.

So we asked them what's at stake.

Tonight, Newswatch 12's Lex Gray and Kira Lynne take a look at the School District of Rhinelander.

"When I look back to moving to this area, one of the reasons was [my husband] was very confident in the school system," says Lori Haug.

Lori and her husband Tony Haug moved to Rhinelander from Eau Claire 14 years ago.

"At the time when we moved here, I felt it was a very good school district, a good place to raise kids," Tony says.

That's proven to be true for their three children.

"I think our decision to move here was a great one," Lori says. "The depth of the curriculum is something that my girls are really enjoying. We have both of them in Advanced Placement classes. They'll be more than prepared to go to university if they choose."

But the Haugs also have a son in seventh grade.

By the time he gets to high school, AP courses, foreign languages, and other electives could be gone.

"The thought of losing that is scary to us," Lori says.

Scary, but a definite possibility.

The School District of Rhinelander is asking taxpayers for another $4 million per year through 2016.

That means each year, you'd pay $105 more than you do now per $100,000 in property value.

The odds are stacked against the district.

It's gone to referendum 24 times since 1996. Fifteen of the 24 have failed.

Lori hopes this time is different.

"It's time to bury all the distrust before and move forward for the sake of the community."

The effects of a failed referendum go beyond classroom doors.

"The students lose, future students lose, the town loses," Tony says. "When your school system is going negative, people will relocate, businesses will not come here, current businesses will question being here, and growth will go slow."

Growth is important to Tony. He's the president of ABX, a Rhinelander manufacturing company.

"Having a strong school system is important for all businesses that are currently here and all future businesses," he said.

But if this referendum fails, Rhinelander won't have a strong school system.

The board started cutting back in 2002. They've laid off teachers, trimmed down activities and sports, closed a building, and cut back on busing.

This time, the district cuts would go even deeper.

Charter schools and some sports and activities would go.

But most disturbing for the Haugs - elective classes would also go.

"My oldest daughter now is looking into colleges" Tony says. "So when you talk about the electives and courses being cut that would prevent her from getting into one of the universities of Wisconsin, that's a huge concern."

It's a concern big enough to talk about moving.

"If our kids don't have the ability to get into universities, going to Rhinelander High School, I think you have to reevaluate where you're living," Tony says.

"I think we would have to consider it," Lori says. "Would we want to? Absolutely not."

But the Haugs hope it won't come to that.

"I believe most people understand that we have to maintain the school districts and the levels," Tony says. "I believe that it will be passed and it needs to be passed and it's the right thing to do. We want to fight for our town and the school district."

"We're at the cusp of something very important here," Lori says. "I think for the sake of our community and our future, it's very important to support it and move forward in a really positive matter."

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