NewsLocal News


Wisconsin school districts considering consolidation due to economic, demographic & facility issues

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards says they know of conversations already happening in pockets across the state.
Wisconsin School Consolidation Map.png
Posted at 11:53 AM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-16 12:53:19-05

MILWAUKEE — Many school districts across Wisconsin, like Kenosha Unified, are trying to come up with solutions when it comes to keeping the doors of their institutions open.

Dan Rossmiller with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards says the issue of consolidation boils down to three root causes.

“One is economics. The second is demographics and the third is basically facilities,” said Rossmiller.

He says in some cases, the buildings are too old and too much money to fix.

When it comes to funding, Rossmiller says the state legislature has imposed revenue limits on school districts for close to 30 years.

“[…] which limits the amount of money that they can receive through a combination of local property taxes and money from the state. Limiting their revenue, obviously, limits how much they can spend. And so school districts continually have to make choices,” said Rossmiller.

Add to that an aging population in Wisconsin along with declining birth rates over the last 10 years.

“We're seeing in certain neighborhoods in our cities, not as many kids as there used to be,” said Rossmiller.

Unofficial numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction show a more than one percent decline in enrollment compared to last year.

That's based on the September school district headcount.

The unaudited numbers for this year show 799,230 students.

Back in 2018, districts recorded close to 850,000 students enrolled.

Rossmiller says consolidation conversations are already happening in pockets across Wisconsin, namely in cities like Green Bay, Oshkosh, La Crosse and Superior.

“We've seen, for lack of a better term, kind of an emptying out of many rural parts of our nation where people are moving to cities and suburbs where jobs and opportunities may be more plentiful,” said Rossmiller.

Districts are now facing some tough decisions, with data showing a problem that may not have a quick solution.

“We have to be mindful of our obligations to students, but we also have to be mindful of our obligations to taxpayers,” said Rossmiller.