PALMYRA — The first Tuesday of November historically is a big election day for voters nationwide. However, Nov. 5, 2019, will be quiet across most of Jefferson County.
With the presidential race and all the TV commercials accompanying it a year away and no local, state or national races taking place, nearly all of the area polls will be closed.
The lone exception is in the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District.
The district is holding a nonbinding referendum giving electors a voice that could be heard all the way to Madison, where a decision on the district possibly dissolving will begin next week.
Palmyra-Eagle District Administrator Steve Bloom said the question will require voters to answer a simple “yes” or “no."
It reads: "Shall the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District be dissolved under Chapter 117.10 of the Wisconsin Statutes?"
The nonbinding referendum will provide insight into public opinion as the state School District Boundary Appeals Board (SDBAB) takes up the matter next week.
Benson Gardner, communications officer for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said 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.
The state statute requires the board to wait to hold the meetings until after the referendum, Gardner said.
Only a week ago, the Wisconsin Elections Commission verified that the question would be on the Nov. 5 ballot, said Heather DuBois Bourenane, executive director of Wisconsin Public Education Network.
And by holding the meetings after the referendum, the board will have a sense of the community vote, she said.
The board must make a decision on the school district's dissolution by Jan. 15, 2020.
The question of whether to dissolve the school district heated up during April’s election when voters shot down a non-recurring four-year operational referendum that asked residents for $1.75 million the first year and climbing each year until reaching $4 million the fourth year.
The vote was 2,276 “no” votes to 1,473 “yes” votes.
But the vote 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.
Since then, supporters of keeping the school district going have worked to get a nonbinding referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“Even with enough signatures, we had to wait for the Wisconsin Elections Commission (to place the question on the ballot),” said Tara LeRoy, a resident and parent in the Palymra-Eagle Area School District.
They received the news last week that the question would be on the ballot, and now supporters are working diligently to get the word out in an election where there are no other items on the ballot.
“We have been trying to get the word out. The whole publicity has been delayed a little bit,” she said.
LeRoy, who in June was part of a 60-mile walk from Palmyra to Madison to support public education, said they are encouraging people to vote “no” on the dissolution of the school district.
But the issue of why this is happening runs deeper than the election, she said. This also comes down to where people live.
LeRoy graduated from Jefferson High School and her husband, from Palmyra-Eagle. She said they love the Palmyra area.
“I love the rural agriculture,” she said.
They moved to that area and wanted a small, rural school that was close-knit for their children.
“My kids are thriving and do wonderful here,” she said.
“But you have a community in Eagle where half (of the residents) moved there because it was cheaper than the school district they wanted," LeRoy said.
The nearby Mukwonago School District has a "big fancy building."
“Many of those (who voted) never stepped foot in our schools,” she said of the Waukesha County residents who reside in the Palmyra-Eagle district.
One of the most difficult things to hit the Palmyra-Eagle district is open enrollment, LeRoy said. A few-hundred students who opted to leave have taken away from the other 800 who want to keep the district, she said.
If the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District is dissolved, its 700-plus students would be assigned to other area districts. Whitewater, Mukwonago and even Fort Atkinson and Jefferson have been mentioned as possible landing spots.
LeRoy said she doesn’t expect voter turnout Tuesday to be as high as it was in April when the operational referendum was on the ballot and money was a factor.
DeeDee Morateck, deputy clerk for the Village of Palmyra, said of that about 800 of the approximately 1,000 registered voters cast ballots in April.
Tuesday’s advisory vote, LeRoy said, will reflect “how much this school district means, not only to the kids, but to the entire community.”
To help get the word out about Tuesday’s vote that there is a school question on the ballot, LeRoy said supporters have been using social media and mailers.
“It has been a challenge, for sure, she said. “But getting on the ballot is a win. Not something that has been done before.”
She also said this topic is far-reaching, more than just Palmyra-Eagle.
“If they don’t change the current education funding system, there will be a lot of other communities following in our footsteps,” she said.