Two rural Merrill schools may close - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Two rural Merrill schools may close

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MERRILL (WAOW) -- The Merrill School District may close two of its rural elementary schools. The school board could make a decision -- and finalize next year's budget -- as early as Thursday night.

Merrill district officials had been looking into expanding by adding a charter school in collaboration with the Marathon School District. Instead, they may be closing two schools and putting a stop to charter school plans in the coming year.

The Merrill district faces a potential $1.4 million deficit for the next school year. Pine River and Maple Grove Elementary are on the chopping block. Some parents said they would be sad to see the schools go.

"It's a very homey school," said Becky Schleif. "Everybody's very close. Our students do very well here. No child seems to be left behind. All the teachers help out. It's just a very close-knit community."

Instead of cutting programs within other schools, Merrill interim superintendent Bruce Anderson said he recommends moving students to other buildings.

"I'm of the firm belief that the location of the classroom is not near as significant to the quality of the education as the teacher who's in front of those students," said Anderson.

"Families are on tighter budgets now," said Schleif. "Schools are on tighter budgets. Everybody's bills just keep getting higher so I can understand it, why they need to, but everybody needs to understand that it's not just going to affect our kids."

If the two elementary schools close, officials said there will need to be some student shuffling within the district. Some parents said they might try to enroll their students in parochial schools or enroll in a different district. School officials said they looked at their options and tried to find the best choice.

"We make our projections and recommendations off that facts that we know rather than what we hope," said Anderson.

Anderson said the district will face a structural deficit for the next five or six years and they're taking it one year at a time.

"If they close these two schools this year and possibly cut hockey or whatever else they're talking about doing, what are they going to do next year?" said Schleif.

"Every year we start over and we try to figure out what we can get along without in the coming year," said Anderson.

The school board will ultimately make the final decision. It meets Thursday at 5:30PM at the high school gym. Public comment will be at the beginning of that meeting.

Here's a list of potential reductions to offset the projected $1.4 million deficit:

$5,000 - CESA Grant writer

$7,500 - Food

$11,000 - Maintenance vehicle replacement

$20,000 - Life and LTD insurance changes

$25,000 - Utilities savings

$25,000 - Professional Development expenses (sub use)

$35,000 - Discontinue Boys Hockey Program

$55,380 - Reduce a custodian/maintenance position

$65,000 - MHS Teacher (Science)

$70,000 - Self funded dental plan

$75,000 - Health insurance out of pocket costs

$124,000 - Lower the budget salary increase in the budget from 2% to 1.3% to retain the School Forest Director and return the reading teacher both under Federal Jobs Fund in 2011-2012

$600,000 - Health Ins.

$262,805 - Elementary Reconfiguration

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