Local schools react to Gov. Walker’s rural schools funding proposal

Sparsity, high-cost transportation aid to increase

Rural schools often have lower student numbers and higher transportation costs. In his new budget, Gov. Scott Walker is planning to direct more funds toward rural schools in Wisconsin to meet those challenges.

The governor’s new budget will increase aid to sparsely populated school districts by $20 million and high-cost transportation aid by $10.4 million.

Walker also plans to put more money toward technology grants, hands-on programs called fabrication laboratories and training pathways for aides to become teachers.

De Soto school district administrators are glad rural schools are the focus, but they’re waiting to see how the new funding will affect them.

“We can offer everything that a larger school can offer, and we do offer that and in some instances, we offer more,” De Soto Superintendent Linzi Gronning said.

Tucked away in a beautiful landscape, De Soto schools offer a number of hands-on programs such as robotics, workshop and even aviation. But with just 500 students enrolled in the entire district, school administrators want to make sure they’re not being forgotten.

“We have smaller population, which is advantageous because we have smaller class sizes, but it also means we don’t have the aid that we necessarily need,” Gronning said.

Gronning is happy the new budget sets aside funds for science and technology labs, and rural schools will be getting a little extra help for transportation costs.

“We’re a 40-mile school district — 10 miles wide, 40 miles long,” she said.

Transportation takes up about 7 percent of De Soto’s total budget. That’s higher than urban schools such as La Crosse School District, for which transportation takes up about 3.3 percent of the budget, or Onalaska School District, where transportation is at 1.6 percent.

But Kent Ellickson, the director of finance and business services at Onalaska School District, said even rural schools would rather receive more general state aid instead of just increased transportation aid.

“Anytime the funding for transportation isn’t covered by categorical aid, it comes out of other pots of money,” he said.

Gronning isn’t sure yet how the funding will shake out.

“So transportation aid would be very helpful, but if the governor elects to increase aid to schools but increase number of miles it will be servicing, that could even it out a little bit,” she said.

De Soto School Board president Rick Pedretti said general funding has decreased so much over the past six years that it would take a lot more additional funding to make up for it.

“We’re thrilled they’re thinking about rural schools and putting more money in education but they’re not keeping up with the needs,” he said.

For now, Gronning is happy that rural schools such as De Soto are on the legislative map.

“I think rural schools cannot be ignored,” she said.

Gronning said they’re also interested in the part of the budget that would set aside funds to train paraprofessionals, including teacher’s aids, to become full time teachers.

Walker will release his budget on Wednesday.