PALMYRA — Voters in the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District still seem to be split based on where they live, with a slim majority wanting to see the district dissolve.
The lone question on Tuesday’s nonbinding referendum read: “Shall the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District be dissolved under Chapter 117.10 of the Wisconsin Statutes?”
When the votes were tallied, 1,219 (53 percent) residents voted “yes” to dissolve the district, while 1,082 voted “no.”
Although the results will not be final for a day, the next step will start Thursday as the fate of Palmyra-Eagle is in the hands of the School District Boundary Appeals Board (SDBAB), which will begin holding public meetings on the matter.
“We’ll just keep going forward,” said Tara LeRoy, a resident and parent in the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District who has been one of the supporters to keep the schools open. “We anticipated Eagle being against having anything to do with the district.”
Of the “yes” votes, 914 (74.9 percent) of them came from the Town of Eagle and Village of Eagle, both located in Waukesha County.
“The Village and Town of Palmyra is willing to support a school in their area,” she said. “We’re going to use this information when we speak in front of the School District Boundary Appeals Board.”
LeRoy said residents in the Palmyra area have proven it will support the school at any cost. She said voter turnout was good and they helped do their part to raise awareness for other districts that may go through something like this.
“The problem doesn’t go away and could affect the districts this is dissolved into,” she said.
Ultimately, LeRoy said, the people that have to deal with this decision will be the students.
“Sometimes what gets lost in this referendum is the kids,” she said.
Palmyra-Eagle District Administrator Steve Bloom emphasized that the vote was strictly advisory and placed on the ballot by citizens via petition. It did not come with any plan for the sustainability of the district.
“The results of the election today will be something (the board) will consider for the dissolving of the district,” he said Tuesday.
Benson Gardner, communications officer for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said last week that the SDBAB’s first session will take place Thursday, Nov. 7. There is a meeting and orientation that day starting at 2 p.m. at Palmyra-Eagle High School and a public hearing set up in the gym from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. There also will be public hearings on Nov. 14 and 21.
State statute required the board to wait to hold the meetings until after the referendum, Gardner said.
Only a week ago, the Wisconsin Elections Commission verified that Tuesday’s referendum question would be on the Nov. 5 ballot, leaving pro-district organizers scrambling to get the word out about the vote.
The question of whether to dissolve the school district heated up during April’s election when voters shot down a nonrecurring four-year operational referendum that asked residents for $1.75 million the first year and climbed each year until reaching $4 million the fourth year.
The vote was 2,276 “no” votes to 1,473 “yes” votes.
But it also was split down county lines, with the school district touching parts of Jefferson, Walworth and Waukesha counties.
There were 1,453 “no” votes from Waukesha County residents alone, with Jefferson County electors overall in favor of the April referendum.
One of the most difficult things to hit the Palmyra-Eagle district is open enrollment, LeRoy said. There are 769 students within Palmyra-Eagle Area School District and 340 students who open-enroll into other districts, particularly Mukwonago and Kettle Moraine. Just 25 transfer in.
Eagle Elementary School in Waukesha County was built to hold more than 300 pupils, but it is housing 152.
Public school enrollment is declining statewide, but in Palmyra-Eagle, it’s dropped more than 35 percent since 2007.
The district says open enrollment state aid transfers are costing it more than $2.2 million per year.
If the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District is dissolved, its students would be assigned to other area districts. Whitewater, Mukwonago, Kettle Moraine and even Fort Atkinson and Jefferson have been mentioned as possible landing spots.
The SDBA has until Jan. 15, 2020, to make its decision.