Small, isolated Washington Island School District faces challenges

WASHINGTON ISLAND — A small northeast Wisconsin school district sees some of the same challenges that larger districts in the state face.

Washington Island School District is the state's smallest pre-kindergarten through 12th grade school district with just over 70 students, the Wisconsin State Journal reported . The district's isolated location off the tip of the Door County Peninsula means it has small class sizes and funding issues.

"I think (students are) getting an amazing education here," said Barbara Krueger, the district's guidance counselor. "A big thing is having that one adult that students can connect with. And we definitely get that here."

The district faces issues such as teacher recruitment, health insurance and transportation costs, taxes, funding special education and finding substitute teachers.

The district uses referendums every other year to stay open. Local taxpayers fund about 99 percent of the district's $1.5 million annual budget. Other districts in the state receive a third to half of their funding from state aid.

"It's a commitment. The people here are amazing," said Amy Jorgenson, president of the five-member school board. "It's very important to have a healthy school. This is our largest asset."

The state's funding formula emphasizes growth. But the district's remote location and a limited ferry schedule make it difficult to attract students who don't live on the island. Consolidating with another district is logistically difficult and unlikely.

Many of the district's employees take on multiple roles to address the difficulty in attracting staff. Matthew Grandy serves as the district's technical education teacher and is the elementary and middle school physical education teacher. Melanie Enger teaches art to all students and covers high school physical education. Sue Cornell is the district's administrative assistant and business manager.

"Everybody has to wear multiple hats," said Superintendent Mati Palm-Leis. "We're trying to offer as many different opportunities to these kids as we can."