Wow. If you thought there was tension in the West Bend School District, check out Antigo! This story caught my eye while browsing the Shawano newspaper this weekend.
The village of Mattoon is seeking a court injunction to stop the Unified School District of Antigo from closing Mattoon Elementary School at the end of the current school year.
The complaint filed in Shawano-Menominee County Circuit Court Monday maintains the village and parents of elementary school students in Mattoon were blindsided by the decision, which the complaint also alleges was retribution for the lack of support for the school district’s failed April 5 referendum.
The $25.9 million plan would have closed down five of its district’s seven elementary schools, renovated the remaining two, and built a brand-new, centralized school in the city.
Mattoon and Crestwood schools would have stayed open under that plan.
The referendum failed by a vote of 3,787 to 2,615.
The Antigo School Board voted April 25 to close the elementary school at the end of this school year, which ends June 3.
Most parents were notified on April 27-28, less than 48 hours before the general deadline for open enrollment, according to the complaint. Some parents had also already enrolled their children in the school’s 4-year-old kindergarten program for next school year.
The village has also filed a separate complaint with the Langlade District Attorney’s Office, alleging the school board violated open meetings laws by not giving sufficient notice that the April 25 meeting would include any action regarding Mattoon Elementary School.
During discussion of an agenda item covering “next steps” for district facilities, board member Patrick McKenna made a motion to close the Mattoon school, according to the complaint. The motion passed by a 5-4 vote.
There had been no previous notice of any imminent closing, according to the injunction complaint.
The complaint also alleges that school board members “conspired to surprise the public with the action to close Mattoon Elementary School without proper notice and out of spite and retaliation against the residents of Mattoon for the board members’ perception that residents of Mattoon did not show sufficient support for the board’s proposed referendum.”
I’d like to hear the School Board’s side of the story. If the allegations in the complaint are accurate, they appear to be acting wildly inappropriately and possibly illegally. In any case, to completely close a school on a motion under the “next steps” agenda item – without notice, public input, or discussion – is electoral malpractice. That’s a big decision that should be deliberated.
It could be that the School Board had already laid out the Plan B if the referendum failed and that included closing the Mattoon school. I don’t know and the story doesn’t say. That’s why I would like to hear the School Board’s side, but even so, it should have been done as its own agenda item at the very least. I’m sure that nobody reading the agenda ahead of time thought for a second that the Board would close a school that day.