THE CAPITAL TIMES. By Kriss Marion.
Schools are the jewels of our rural communities. Public schools, which are often a small town’s biggest employer, provide the most accessible and consistent community entertainment and function as an essential “third space” for neighbors to come together informally outside of home or work. And all of those cultural assets are just icing on the cake, enhancing the incredible primary role public schools play in educating our children in both academics and life skills. Regardless of income, class, race or ability, our differently gifted children are to be welcomed, supported and KNOWN by their public school teachers and staff. Though we may not always implement the ideal perfectly, the public school system is truly an American miracle of unified purpose, one of hope and investment in a shared future. We can be proud as citizens that we collectively hold up such an ideal.
Feb. 12-16 is “I Love My Public School” Week and I am delighted to have a special excuse to celebrate the Pecatonica School District and recount some of the many ways these two schools and their staffs have enriched the lives of my children, our family and this community.
I will never forget the first time I entered the grade school in Hollandale 13 years ago. We’d just moved here from Chicago — where we home-schooled our four children — and our youngest daughter was entering fifth grade. Scheduled to have an introductory tour of the school, we were greeted by the principal, who squatted down so she could look little Emma in the eyes and welcome her in a most nonthreatening way. Emma was smitten right then, and she continued to love the Pecatonica schools right through her senior year, when she graduated with no less than 14 varsity letters. One of the joys of small rural public schools is the opportunity for every child to participate in every sport they want to, even when the seasons overlap.
All four of my children had good experiences at Pec, but for my son Jake, who is on the highly functioning end of the autism spectrum, being closely watched by attentive teachers in small class sizes was essential to him successfully navigating the tumultuous middle-school years. Our public schools, per our laws, MUST provide special education and attendant services to those who need them. This is one very important mandate that sets public schools apart from private schools, which can choose whether or not to enroll a particular student. And this is how state voucher programs can siphon resources from the students who most need them: by putting our public education dollars in the hands of those who have the luxury to choose and the advantage of being chosen.
We need generous taxpayer funding and generous community support for our public schools if they are to maintain this level of service and support for all of our children. Jake made it through his high school years, in spite of some risky floats down the Pecatonica on ice chunks, and today co-owns a house at the age of 25, has a satisfying factory job and goes to school for industrial animation. By all accounts, his is a victory for Pecatonica High School, as well as for our family.
Even with last year’s state budget “historic investment in education” and recent talk about additional sparsity aid for small rural schools, public school funding in Wisconsin remains at 2010 levels, as a result of previous severe cuts made by the administration. Consequently, our public schools are increasingly asking voters to approve referendums for basic operations or needed updates, and living in a climate of uncertainty when it comes to budget and operations each year.