Nov. 19, 2020
By Ed Byrne
The Brillion News
Lack of industrial tax base presents big challenge
MORRISON – Usually, when a school superintendent appears before a municipal government body, it has to do with asking for support for a referendum – for a capital project or authority to exceed state revenue limits with higher taxes.
But when Kristoffer Brown showed up, with a slide show in his laptop of tricks, it was all about bringing the town board up to date on what Reedsville public schools are doing.
The Town of Morrison seldom hears from the public schools that serve its people. The township is divided among five school districts – Brillion, Reedsville, Wrightstown, Denmark and De Pere.
Brown said enrollment in Reedsville public schools has been declining for some time, and the biggest decline happened this year.
“I’m not here to tell you whether that’s a trend or a COVID-related concern,” he said, noting that several families opted for online, virtual schooling rather than the in-person school format Reedsville was offering.
The state as a whole has seen a three percent drop in public school enrollment, Brown said.
“The biggest ... is a decrease in our 4K and kindergarten enrollments,” Brown said. He believes some parents just didn’t want to send children that age to school in the middle of a pandemic. “Enrollment for 4K and 5K is down everywhere, including our district.”
Reedsville schools are holding classes on campus and in school, and one reason is the lack of good internet for most rural students in their homes, making “virtual” school online impractical.
“High speed broadband [internet] is not accessible in our region,” Brown said. “We do not have access to high-speed broadband in the Reedsville School District ... We just do not have the same access ... that the suburbs or cities do.”
Brown also doesn’t feel that an “asynchronous” learning model, where teachers are never “live” with students works well.
He said some families chose to enroll in online schools; but several of them gave up on it after a couple of weeks and ended up in the classrooms at Reedsville.
Over the past five years – i.e. where COVID realities are not dominating enrollment numbers – Brown said Reedsville school enrollment is down 2.77 percent. Brillion is down one percent, Chilton is down about four percent, Denmark is up about 3.35 percent; Wrightstown up 3.79 percent and Hilbert up a whopping 12 percent.
Over the past 20 years, enrollment at Reedsville High School has dropped by 50 percent. Last year, it had 179 students enrolled.
“When talking about our community, one of the biggest concerns I have is the lack of development and growth,” Brown said. “If you don’t have people, you don’t have kids.”
He said there are few families with children moving into the district. Many resident families have children who have matured out of school age.
“[There is] not a lot of movement in the housing market,” Brown said. “Those families [in his neighborhood] still reside there, but their kids have grown up and have gone elsewhere. Without continued development and growth, from a housing standpoint, we just have fewer opportunities to have kids [coming into the district].”
He said the lack of growth, and declining student enrollment, is a long term concern.
”There’s not ‘one thing’ we can do to fix it, but we are cognizant of it,” Brown said.