District defends Mattoon school closing

Antigo board challenges court’s authority in case
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Antigo school officials are not backing down from plans to close Mattoon Elementary School this fall and have filed a brief in circuit court maintaining the court has no authority to stop them.

The village of Mattoon and two parents of Mattoon Elementary students filed for a court injunction in May to stop the Unified School District of Antigo from closing the school.

They are asking the court to order that Mattoon Elementary be kept open until at least the end of the 2016-2017 school year to give parents adequate time to find other educational options for their children.

The civil complaint also maintains the the school’s closure will make the village of Mattoon a less attractive place to live, leading to a decline in population, business presence and economic vitality.

There is still no court date set in the matter.

Most of June was taken up by judicial reshufflings in the case, with Shawano-Menominee County Circuit Court judges James Habeck and William Kussel Jr. recusing themselves.

The case was subsequently assigned to Forest County Judge Leon Stenz, but the plaintiffs objected and filed a request for a new judge, according to court records.

The case has since been assigned to Taylor County Judge Ann Knox-Bauer.

Antigo school officials voted twice to close the elementary school. Some parents say the School Board’s first vote in April was taken without any public notice. The board held a special meeting last month to vote again and came down to the same 5-4 decision.

In a response filed last week to the civil complaint, the school district and board maintain the vote was a valid exercise of school officials’ power and that the court lacks jurisdiction over school district actions.

The response also denies the complaint’s allegation that 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.”

The $25.9 million referendum plan would have closed five of the district’s seven elementary schools, renovated the remaining two, and built a brand-new, centralized school in Antigo.

Mattoon and Crestwood schools would have stayed open under that plan.

The referendum failed by a vote of 3,787-2,615.