The Palmyra-Eagle school district is located an hour east of Madison, and consists primarily of two towns separated by the Kettle-Moraine Forest: Palmyra and Eagle.
Last April, voters in the district rejected a proposal to raise $11.5 million in taxes over four years to sustain the district, which has seen enrollment steadily decline over the last decade. Last November, with fewer than 800 students still enrolled in the district, voters called to dissolve the district entirely.
However, school districts in Wisconsin can’t decide to close by themselves. Mike Bormett, an Assistance Director of School Management Services for Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, says that decision is up to a panel of the state’s DPI, called the School District Boundary Appeal Board.
“State law requires that the School District Boundary Appeal Board be assembled and called in to review that order of dissolution and to affirm or deny that order,” says Bormett. “Wisconsin school districts cannot unilaterally decide to dissolve.”
Bormett says that, had the appeal board affirmed the dissolution, the district would have been the first Wisconsin school district to dissolve in thirty years.
It also would have meant about 770 students would need to find another school.
In the November 2019 referendum to dissolve the Palmyra-Eagle School District, voters were split between towns. Voters in Palmyra were in favor of keeping the school district, but voters in Eagle favored dissolution.
According to the US Census records from 2017, the median household income in Palmyra was around $47,000. The median household in Eagle was around $95,000.
Carrie Ollis, the former clerk for the school board, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that people who supported the dissolution had called her “a thief, a criminal, a member of the mob.” She says she’s been accused of using money for the school district to take a personal vacation.
Tara Bollmann, former vice president of the board who voted to dissolve, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that while children in the district are getting along, parents continue to argue.
She says that she has watched the two halves of the district fight since she was a child, and called her dissolution vote the best thing for the district.
There are currently eight candidates vying for the three newly vacant board seats in the spring election. Scott Hoff, the former school board president , told the Journal Sentinel that a community member offered donate up to $100,000 if the current school board stepped down.
He said he stepped down because the district needed the money “far more” than they needed him.
According to an analysis from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the school district has lost 383 students over the last decade.