RHINELANDER - Rural schools face different challenges than schools in suburbs and cities. State legislators say they want to understand what those challenges are, and how they might help.
Local state representative Rob Swearingen chairs the Rural Schools Task Force. Eleven other representatives make up the task force.
Their goal is to create legislation that will help rural schools. Today, the task force listened to superintendents from four local districts.
Their overwhelming message: the school funding formula needs to change. Most Northwoods districts get less state aid because they have high property values.
"It doesn't take into account the ability of our taxpayers to help with the funding of schools," said Kelli Jacobi, superintendent of the School District of Rhinelander. "As our state aid goes down, our taxpayers are expected to pay more, and our taxpayers can't afford to do that."
Swearingen says he hopes house speaker Robin Vos will listen to that. But the funding formula wasn't the purpose of the task force, and it won't be the focus.
"The focus of this group is to make sure the school districts are using the money they have more effectively, so that's part of the discussion. Clearly, the state doesn't have money to just throw at the districts," Swearingen said. "But if we can transfer some of this into categorical aid, something that specifically relates to these rural school problems, maybe we can address some of those financial issues."
Categorical aid could apply to costs like transportation. Three of the four superintendents who spoke today said that would be a big help.
Their districts are geographically large, so they spend huge amounts of money getting kids to and from school. Northland Pines spends $1.3 million every year. Rhinelander spends $1.5 million.
RHINELANDER - Oneida County needs more foster care homes. Right now, there are nine licensed foster homes in the area, most of which are full according to the county's social services department.
Foster Care Coordinator Rachel Nelson says that in Oneida County there are 24 children currently living in foster homes. The department participated in a statewide foster care recruitment project last fall, and discovered just how great the need is.
RHINELANDER - A snow storm caught Hanson's Garden Village in Rhinelander off guard last weekend and collapsed a greenhouse. Now that spring weather is here, Hanson's is ready to move forward by making some adjustments.
"We got by for 25 years doing what we were doing," said Hanson's Garden Village Co-owner Brent Hanson.
Last weekend's spring snow storm set back Hanson's.
"We thought we were ahead of schedule having that greenhouse nice and filled," said Hanson's Manager Beth Hanson.
"One bad storm and there you go. Things happen," said Brent.
The storm collapsed a greenhouse holding thousands of plants.
"For years we've gotten by with these lighter cheaper green houses," said Brent.
"We'll be down a greenhouse for a little bit here," said Beth.
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