Empower Wisconsin | Dec. 17, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The board that will decide whether the troubled Palmyra-Eagle Area School District lives or dies canceled a public hearing this week, a move that raised alarm bells from some district residents concerned state bureaucrats are playing games with their future.
The School District Boundary Appeal Board (SDBAB), a creation of the state Department of Public Instruction, is supposed to decide by Jan. 15 whether the district will dissolve.
This week’s public hearing on dissolution was originally scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 19. Hearings scheduled for Jan. 6, 9 and 10 remain on the schedule, according to an email sent to district residents.
There have been other changes in the board’s hearing schedule.
DPI spokesman Chris Bucher said Dec. 19 was one of “six optional dates” which the agency put on the calendar “to allow for needs that were difficult to foresee at the beginning of the board’s process.” He said SDBAB scheduling conflicts prevented Thursday’s tentatively scheduled meeting to be held.
Bob Williamson, a resident of the village of Eagle, says the cancelation is just the latest red flag that state bureaucrats may overrule the will of the people.
“I feel that we are being dragged along,” he said. “I do feel this is a push to try to delay it.”
District voters twice this year effectively supported dissolution at the polls, including an advisory referendum last month.
The issue has divided the school district, with residents in and around the Village of Eagle supporting shutting down the school system, and those in Palmyra desperately trying to keep it open.
State Rep. Cody Horlacher (R-Mukwonago) has expressed concerns that taxpayers may be on the hook if the DPI board decides against dissolution and majority rule.
“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,” Horlacher told Empower Wisconsin last month.
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.
If the board affirms the dissolution, the school district will cease to exist as of July 1, 2020, and its territory will be split among one or more other school districts, according to state law. If the dissolution is denied, the debt-ridden school district will be forced to continue to operate.
Williamson, who has a foster child with special needs in third grade, said he won’t be able to transfer the student to nearby Mukwonago schools, if Palmyra-Eagle remains open. Mukwonago, he said, offers more resources for the child.
More so, he said he and his neighbors would probably see their property taxes climb.
“I have a friend in the district who says if this tax structure goes in place to maintain this school district, she will have to sell her house,” Williamson said. “She doesn’t have any more money.”