Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 27, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Voters in the financially troubled Palmyra-Eagle Area School District have made it clear they want the public school system to dissolve.
They said as much in two separate referenda this year, the latest one coming earlier this month.
But there is growing concern from community members and a lawmaker who represents the region that the state Department of Public Instruction board overseeing the process is dragging its feet and undermining the will of the people.
“I don’t think DPI has acted in the best interest of students or the best interest of taxpayers to sit idly by and waste precious time,” said state Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago).”
If DPI doesn’t act soon, Horlacher and others assert, there won’t be enough time to put a transition plan in place for the 2020-21 school year. If that happens, district taxpayers, already stuck with high property taxes, may have to pick up the tab to keep open the schools they voted twice to shut down.
“To come back to the taxpayer and ask them for $3.1 million to keep the doors open for another year is irresponsible,” Horlacher said. “I’ve been clear, I cannot support laying out more taxpayer money because some need more time on this.”
Much depends now on the School District Boundary Appeal Board (SDBAB), a creation of DPI.
SDBAB’s seven-member panel, including five board members and a DPI representative, has been holding hearings on the impact of the dissolution. Members have been hearing plenty from the voters lobbying to save the small district. The board is supposed to come to a decision on what happens next by mid-January. If approved, the dissolution must occur on July 1, 2020.
“If affirmed, PEASD will cease to exist as of July 1, 2020, and its territory will be split amongst one or more other school districts. If denied, the PEASD School Board will continue to be responsible for operating the district,” DPI spokesman Chris Bucher said in an email.
But the debt-ridden district doesn’t have the money to run its schools, so either local taxpayers are going to have to chip in more or state taxpayers will have to pick up the tab.
Horlacher said the board could have taken up the dissolution question months ago, saving time and headaches.
“What I am saying is we have diddled around on this too long to say we need more time,” the lawmaker said.
Horlacher said he understands the drive to save the schools, that dissolution for many means the end of a community center, a community identity. But the lawmaker said he’s concerned the foot-draggers are going to have to turn to state taxpayers to cover the tab for another year in business for a financially mismanaged school district.
In the process, they will have ignored the will of the people.