I won’t make many friends with certain family and former classmates, but since it is in the news, it is time to say it: The Kiel Area School District needs to finally bite the bullet, and close down Meeme Elementary School.
With elementary enrollment declining, the Kiel Area School District is taking a look at its two elementary schools to determine whether it should continue to operate both of them.
Enrollment at Meeme LEADS Elementary School declined by 15 students over the last four years, from 101 students in 2009-10 to 86 this school year, according to information from the district. Meanwhile, enrollment at Zielanis Elementary School declined by 38 students, from 496 to 458, during that time period.
An enrollment projection analysis by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Applied Population Laboratory projects a continued decline in elementary enrollment.
The district looks at its staffing situation every March, Superintendent Louise Blankenheim said. This year, for the second consecutive year, the district transferred a teacher from Meeme to Zielanis. Next year’s fourth-grade class at Meeme would have had only 11 students, so the fourth grade and one teacher were moved to Zielanis for 2013-14.
That led to the question of whether Kiel should look at having one or two elementary schools, according to Blankenheim. Knowing “where the budgets have been, where the state budget’s going, knowing that every year we’re looking at enrollment and … teacher-student ratio, … (the board) felt that it was … time to do a comprehensive study.”
This isn’t the first time the issue of closing Meeme has arisen. In November 1981, a Citizen’s Advisory Board was formed to review the district’s enrollment. After its analysis, the advisory board voted in 1982 to keep Meeme open, and the school board accepted the recommendation.
Meeme, which opened in 1964-65, became a charter school in 2005. Enrollment at the school had been declining and the principal at that time thought becoming a charter school would provide an opportunity for the school to offer more individualized programming, Blankenheim said.
For those who don’t know the geography of the Kiel Area School Distirct, Meeme is located about four miles west of Cleveland on Manitowoc CTH XX, just off of Wisconsin State Highway 42. Zielanis is located inside the City of Kiel, about 10 to 11 miles west of Meeme.
Traditionally, the border which separated rural KASD households into those who sent their children to Meeme and Zielanis was Manitowoc CTH A, which more or less runs through the middle of the district. My boyhood home was just west of CTH A.
In the early 90s, just as I was set to start 5th grade and going to Kiel Middle School, the school board at the time suggested moving the border west to Lax Chapel Road, some three miles away. The plan at the time was to bulk up Meeme’s enrollment numbers which even back then were in decline. The idea was eventually scuttled after people like my parents — who still had my two younger brothers in elementary school — and others in my neighborhood rose up to protest the move because they didn’t wish to change elementary schools midway through for their kids.
So the debate as to what will happen to Meeme has been on-going and constant for the people of Kiel, School Hill, Meeme, Spring Valley, Osman, and other rural areas in the district. Those closer to Kiel feel the school has outlived its purpose. While those closer to the school feel a loyalty to it, and feel that Kiel is too far away compared to nearby places (and schools) like Howards Grove, Manitowoc, Valders, and Sheboygan.
(A little dirty secret / rumor about the origins of Meeme is that it was set up by the Kiel Area School District not as a way to serve the rural areas, but as a way to cheat in establishing its school district borders. With Meeme that far away from Kiel proper, but still a Kiel school, the district was able to expand its borders to cover the surrounding areas. This had significant effect on the ability for Howards Grove to go north, Valders to expand south, and all but forced Cleveland into the Sheboygan Area School District. For instance, did you know that Meeme Elementary School is actually closer [7 miles] to Howards Grove than it is to Kiel [10 miles]?)
What is happening with Meeme is a reality of what is happening across the country. With people having less and less kids, it is forcing many school districts across not only Wisconsin to reconsider the need of some of their buildings, but also whether the need to hire new teachers is warranted. (This is beginning to wreck havoc with WEAC and other “More Money for Schools Now!” supporters, and will utterly collapse much of their argument in the coming decades.)
Without as many kids in schools — just because there aren’t as many kids — it is going to cause per pupil numbers (i.e. in classroom size, teacher to pupil ratios, and per capita spending) to fluctuate like never before. Want to see what a state where the average per student spending is $25,000 a kid? Wait a few years with the demographic growth we’re under and that will be Wisconsin just because there are less and less kids to spread the money around to.
People who are crunching the numbers know all this. Why do you think the UW-Madison does at its “Applied Population Laboratory” anyway?
The real question going forward is what do the policymakers and lawmakers do with this knowledge and what will those committed to the status quo do with it as well. For years, groups like WEAC have been screaming about things like SAGE based on the belief that there would be more and more kids, and thus the need for more and more teachers. We’re on a path, where the opposite is more likely to happen.
So the question now is, why are groups like WEAC still being listened to when to comes to “the right amount of school financing” when clearly the numbers are beginning to show us all something completely different?