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Racine Unified School District Could Be Dismantled


The Racine Unified School District is in danger of being dismantled. State lawmakers put a rule into effect in 2015 that impacts districts that receive a failing report card two years in a row.

The rule allows the worst-performing schools to be pulled out of a district. It also allows the creation of a separate school district. Meanwhile, a second measure would allow municipalities in Racine County to secede from Unified. The debate over what should happen with the district is tied to the two-year state budget that lawmakers are considering this week.

Republican state Senator Van Wanggaard says the Racine Unified School District received a failing report card last year, putting it at risk of being broken apart. But he says since then, Unified has made a number of changes that warrant giving it more time to improve.

“They have changed some of their policies and procedures, they have changed administrative staff, we have a new superintendent that’s going to be taking over,” he says.

Wanggaard shares a specific example:

"One of our schools, it was recommended to raze that school, which would have been Knapp School and in its place they build a new school. They were in the process of that when they had the failing report card the first time. That is now built and it’s no longer a regional type school, it’s now on a neighborhood model so it’s like a neighborhood school like it used to be."

Because of the improvements, he authored legislation -- attached to the state budget -- that would give Unified more time to succeed. Yet, Wanggaard also says students shouldn’t be forced to attend school in a struggling district. He backs an amendment that would allow the seven municipalities within Unified to break away and create their own districts.

“You can’t continue to have children that are in a failing school system that are failing them. They don’t have three to four years to wait,” Wanggaard says.

Critics of that measure say it would create segregated schools. That's because about 60 percent of kids enrolled in Racine Unified Schools are minorities, more than 17 percent have disabilities and around 11 percent speak limited English.

If the smaller communities that are currently part of Unified create their own district, the schools in the city of Racine would have a disproportionate number of minority and special needs children. Wanggaard maintains the proposal has nothing to do with demographics.

Regardless of the motivation for the measure, Unified Superintendent Lolli Haws says the change would cause turmoil for the district, as well as its parents and pupils. “It would be a huge, enormous, disruptive undertaking and the impact on property taxes and on the schools and on families and on citizens is enormous and really hard to begin to calculate."

Haws says if municipalities are allowed to leave the Racine school district, the city would lose one of its biggest assets. “We believe our diversity here in Racine is one of our strengths. And when we smaller entities based upon municipalities that diversity is lost,” Haws says. 

Wanggaard's proposals are attached to the biennial state budget proposal, which lawmakers could approve in the next couple of weeks.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.