Breaking up is hard to do and for a unified school district like Racine Unified to possibly lose three of the communities feeding into the district and for the communities of Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant looking to start divorce-like proceedings — it is just as difficult task.
Board members from Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant met Wednesday night at an Ad Hoc Committee meeting to consider how a feasibility study will look for a potential break-up with the Racine Unified School District.
Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance (WisTax), met with the committee and told the six-members that the study would need to consider a number of factors including: enrollment, equalized values of each community, the assets and liabilities in each community, state aid, state revenues, and Racine Unified’s debt.
“But we’re not lawyers or principals,” Berry told the members.
WisTax, a nonprofit and nonpartisan education organization, analyzes state, county, municipal and school data. They’ve also done feasibility studies for a number of school districts that have either merged or separated over the years. But this is the first time a group of municipalities has asked WisTax to look at pulling out of a district. Berry likened school finance to a Rube Goldberg machine.
“You are municipal people and you are wondering into school finance which is messy,” he said.
The committee — which is comprised of two village board members from Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant — asked WisTax to put together a proposal since none of village boards, have not decided on the basic question of how these communities will potentially break-away. So all options are on the table: three separate K-8 districts feeding into one high school, a three-community unified district, and three independent k-12 school districts.
One of the more difficult parts about looking at three K-8 districts and a Unified School District is that they tend to have higher per pupil costs.
“But people like them and they are often willing to pay for them,” Berry said.
Caledonia and Sturtevant in April narrowly voted to approve an advisory referendum to start pursuing an independent school district. Caledonia asked its board to fund a feasibility study, which was shot down 4 to 2. But the Sturtevant village board promised to budget for a study in 2016 if the referendum passed. Now the three communities plan to form an RUSD Separation Study ad hoc committee to look at the issue.
“We’re looking for a comprehensive study,” said Ken Wanggaard, a member of the ad hoc committee and a Caledonia Village Board member. “What we want is to not just look at three independent school districts. We want to look at everything so we’re getting estimates for all of these things.
“We don’t want to effect change one way or another so everything is on the table.”
Meanwhile, a group advocating for Caledonia to have its own independent school district has been raising funds to help pay for the study.
This happened just days after the Caledonia village board voted 4 to 2 to kill funding for a feasibility study to form an independent school district, local supporters have started a fundraising campaign to come up with the $30,000 on their own, according to the Citizens for a Caledonia School District Facebook page.
Residents have been quite vocal about the issue.
“I see no good reason to not move forward with this (Caledonia-only) study at this time,” wrote Eric Butcher in an editorial that ran in July. “Every day, week, month and year we go on in this community without improving the educational options for our children causes parents like me to deal with difficult decisions and hardships that neighbors to our north and west do not.”
WisTax will be bringing back a proposal as soon as next week. We’ll keep you posted on when the Ad Hoc Committee will meet next