Mattoon looking to create new school district

Public hearing set for Tuesday
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The village and residents of Mattoon are pushing forward with efforts to break away from Antigo and create a new school district as a result of Antigo’s decision earlier this year to close Mattoon Elementary School.

A public hearing will be held Tuesday before the Unified School District of Antigo’s Board of Education that will include a presentation by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonprofit government research organization.

The WTA is expected to present information on the challenges, logistics and feasibility of a new startup district and its tax implications.

Ultimately, the new district would have to be approved by the state Department of Public Instruction.

“We’re trying to find a way to keep our school open,” Village President Brian Owen said. “Without a school, there’s no heart left in this town.”

The village had its own school district up until the 1960s when the state began efforts at consolidation.

“The state wanted to close all these little school districts,” Owen said.

Reconstituting a Mattoon school district would require a larger area than the shuttered elementary school served.

Owen said the district being proposed would take about 10 percent of the existing Antigo school district.

“We would need a larger area in order to get enough students and tax base,” Owen said.

He said the proposed district would hope to have 150 to 200 students to be viable.

The village of Mattoon sought a court injunction in May to keep the Antigo school district from closing the Mattoon school, maintaining the village and parents of elementary school students in Mattoon were blindsided by the decision.

Two parents of Mattoon elementary students joined the village as plaintiffs in the complaint.

Owen said there hadn’t been any talk of closing the school ahead of time and Mattoon residents were cut out of the debate.

“Nobody had any say,” Owen said.

The complaint alleged the school board’s vote to close the Mattoon school 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 the district’s seven elementary schools, renovated the remaining two, and built a brand-new, centralized school in Antigo.

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

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.

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.

A court order issuing a settlement and stipulation to dismiss the suit was issued on Aug. 4, after the Mattoon school had already been closed.

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.

Board President Mike Boldig declined to comment on Mattoon’s efforts.

“The board and district are still gathering information and data prior to making any decision on the proposed formation of a new school district in the Mattoon area,” he said. “At this point, I do not feel it would be appropriate to comment further.”