Suit against Antigo schools dismissed

Mattoon pushing to become its own school district

A civil suit seeking a court injunction against the Antigo school district to keep it from closing Mattoon Elementary School was dismissed last week, but court records offer no explanation as to why.

A court order issuing a settlement and stipulation to dismiss was issued on Aug. 4.

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 asked 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.

Mattoon Village President Brian Owen said Friday he wasn’t aware the case had been dismissed, but he said he wasn’t surprised.

“They closed (the school) already,” he said.

Owen said many parents have open-enrolled their students into the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District.

Owen said the nearest alternative in the Antigo district is Crestwood Elementary, about six miles away. He said the nearest schools in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood district “are about the same difference.”

Meanwhile, efforts are underway for the village to break away from the Antigo district and become a school district of its own, much like the village of Gresham did some years ago.

However, Owen said, it would be a long process.

“It’s going to take a couple of years,” he said.

Some 1,900 signatures have been collected on a petition to break away from Antigo, according to Owen.

At some point a public hearing would have to be held and the idea would have to get the blessing of the state Department of Public Instruction.

Owen said the school district has been “bucking to get a new school” for about 10 years, but the effort has continually failed in referendums.

He said the district has been forcing the issue by closing schools until there is no choice but to build a new one.

A message left for Antigo school officials for comment was not returned Friday.

The civil complaint maintained that 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.

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 in June to vote again and came down to the same 5-4 decision.

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

The response also denied 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.