I know every member on the Wisconsin Dells School Board. They are not just good people, they are great. They are reputable businesses owners, educators, coaches, public servants, parents, grandparents, and friends. There is absolutely no glory in serving on a school board, and yet they do so anyway.
I have been critical of the board at times, they don’t always make decisions I agree with. When was the last time any board or body of government made decisions that everyone agreed with? Our school board has many challenges because our schools have many challenges. And whether the board makes a decision I like or dislike, I still respect these people. I am asking you to respect them too.
If you attended the April 26 board meeting, it was a roller coaster of emotions and numbers. You heard from passionate parents begging the board to keep Neenah Creek Elementary School open. Members of the Briggsville community speaking about how much that school means to them. At least two students even offered their own money to help the district afford to keep it open.
Then you heard District Administrator Terry Slack speak of the finances, the logistics, and the timing…all reasons to close the school. Principal Ennis spoke of the welcoming environment Spring Hill School will offer the incoming students, teachers, and programs. Even parents of students at Spring Hill wrote in to sing the praises that the school would offer students from Neenah Creek. You knew then, this was a done deal. And in a fast and unanimous vote, Neenah Creek’s future was ended.
I have criticized the board for not considering other options. I went so far as suggested in a previous column to cut all athletics to save an estimated $350,000 from the budget. That was never considered, and would be a widely unpopular move in this community. I must trust those options were considered, and proved to be unacceptable.
I know the decision to close Neenah Creek is going to send shockwaves throughout this community. But the board made decisions as boards should, by what is best for the entire district. They also did it quickly, like ripping off a Band-Aid to get the pain over with, which was smart. It is time for this wound to heal.
If you listened closely to Slack, and certain members of the board, they based their decision not just on money, but also on a concept that so many cannot embrace…one community.
Our community has many divides. While lines on a map blur, the political divides between our municipalities are stark. It makes perfect sense to merge the Dells-Delton police departments but we don’t because of politics. Dell Prairie doesn’t want UTV’s on roads they share with the city even when the city pays for all the services and maintenance on the roads. Townships threaten to leave the EMS district when the cost share formula increases. The root of these differences are not the populous, but rather the few leaders who refuse to consider smart collaboration in favor of defiant independence.
Slack got it right, and so did the board, this is one community. Board members did exactly what their colleagues on other councils, boards, and commissions should be doing, and that is treat this as one community. In the case of the board, they made a difficult decision based on what makes the most sense financially without costing anyone a job and while promising student success. They represented every corner of our community in doing so. Like it or not, it was the right decision.
The closing of Neenah Creek hurts, and I know people are disappointed and some even enraged. I hope in time, those feelings change to those of acceptance and support for the betterment of our kids and school. There is a bigger picture, and I congratulate Slack and our board in seeing it. This was a lesson in putting personal feelings aside to do what is right for everyone and improve on the concept of one community. Our smallest school might have just become our community’s biggest teacher in her final lesson.
Brian Landers, a former Wisconsin Dells mayor, writes a weekly column for Capital Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.