The small southeastern Wisconsin school district of Palmyra-Eagle will not dissolve, despite serious financial problems. A state-appointed board made the decision at a meeting Thursday.
Palmyra-Eagle, which spans rural parts of Waukesha and Jefferson counties, would have been the first school district to dissolve under Wisconsin’s current funding system. But on Thursday night, that was averted — for now.
The School District Boundary Appeal Board voted 6-1 to deny the dissolution. Board member Katie Maloney of Green Bay said it would give the community more time to come up with a solution.
“I think the dissolution process is rushed, I don’t think it gives the district enough time to react,” Maloney said. “I think there is a new sense of urgency that has developed in this district. And if we were to affirm the dissolution, there is no opportunity for the district to explore all their other options.”
The Palmyra-Eagle School Board felt it was out of options when it voted last year to dissolve. That was after a failed tax referendum and years of losing students through open enrollment.
But the boundary appeal board heard testimony from residents who are determined to find another way. One of them is Palmyra-Eagle parent Tara LeRoy. She was crying tears of relief after the meeting.
“I know we have a long road ahead of us, but I think we have a community that’s pulled together in a time of great need,” LeRoy said. “And I think we will be able to get the job done.”
LeRoy is one of eight candidates running for three open seats on the Palmyra-Eagle School board in this April’s election. It will be the new board’s job to figure out what to do next. Ideas include closing an elementary school, forming a charter school, and private fundraising.
High schoolers like Ally Fredrick are just happy they’ll be able to graduate from their hometown school.
“We’re just ecstatic I guess, like so blown away,” Fredrick said after the board’s vote. “It’s just a huge weight off of our shoulders. We don’t have to go around and look at other schools.”
If the boundary appeal board had approved the dissolution, it would have assigned Palmyra-Eagle’s territory, students, and $13 million debt to other districts. That was another reason the board hesitated. Members were worried that Palmyra-Eagle’s dissolution could create a domino effect of folding school districts.
“It’s really drawn out how fragile school districts are right now, from a fiscal standpoint,” said board member Tom Weber of Sun Prairie.
Boundary appeal board member David Carlson, who served as the designee of DPI Superintendent Carolyn Stanford-Taylor, was at odds with the rest of the board — he voted against denying the dissolution.
“Denying the dissolution is not long-term in the best interests of all the children potentially impacted by this situation,” Carlson said. “The causes, the challenges that brought us here, remain unresolved.”
One of the challenges is the divide between Palmyra and Eagle. In a November advisory referendum, most Eagle voters said they wanted to dissolve the district. Most Palmyra voters were opposed to dissolution.
Many Eagle families open-enroll their children in the much bigger Mukwonago School District. Some say they lost faith in Palmyra schools because of bullying or academic issues. Kami Kluss, an Eagle resident, told the boundary appeal board in November that her children received a better education in Mukwonago.
“My daughter went from failing here to high honors, and stayed at high honors and graduated with high honors from Mukwonago,” Kluss said.
The boundary appeal board considered dividing Palmyra-Eagle between Mukwonago and Whitewater school districts. But Whitewater officials said that could put their district in financial jeopardy.
Boundary appeal board members said this process has demonstrated possible flaws in Wisconsin’s dissolution laws. Districts receiving portions of Palmyra-Eagle would be stuck with debt and high transportation costs, and they wouldn’t receive full state aid for new students in the first two years after the transition.
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