Maple Grove School and Hamburg residents petition to detach from MAPS, attach to Athens School District
TINA L. SCOTT
Residents of Hamburg and the part of the Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) district that includes Maple Grove Charter School, petitioned the MAPS Board of Education (BOE) to detach from the MAPS District. Following two public hearings, the first held on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and the second on Thursday, Feb. 25, the MAPS BOE ultimately voted unanimously to grant the petitions, detaching the Maple Grove District from the MAPS School District.
The very next Saturday, Feb. 27, the Athens School District held a special meeting/public hearing on whether or not to accept the detachment/attachment resolution, because it needed to be completed before March 1. The Athens School District Board of Education (Athens BOE) unanimously voted to grant the petition to attach Maple Grove to the Athens District.
Some background, and step one of the process
In a December 3, 2020, letter to Nubs Ashbeck, Clerk of the MAPS BOE, Peter Fromm Wade, on behalf of members of the Maple Grove Foundation, Inc., wrote in part, “It is in the spirit of optimism and with hopes for a better future that we reach out to you today on behalf of the volunteers and supporters of Maple Grove Charter School. … Quite simply, we seek to continue the long history, tradition and education values established by Maple Grove Charter School. As we no longer believe the school is a viable part of the MAPS district’s future, we respectfully appeal to the Board to let us, with the great support of the majority of electors and property owners of this community, detach and continue under the guidance of another district.”
“… For 116 years, Maple Grove Charter School has created excellent educational opportunities for Wisconsin’s rural scholars, accomplished through an immersive learning environment unparalleled in the area, the integration of modern technology in the classroom, and a unique university or technical college scholarship opportunity for graduating students.”
After requesting a public hearing and sharing more information, the letter concluded, “We understand if this tradition cannot continue within the Merrill District but seek to continue it elsewhere.”
As a result, a public hearing to consider the Maple Grove School and Hamburg residents’ petitions was scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 16.
At the Feb. 16 public hearing, Peter Fromm Wade spoke on behalf of 810 petitioners and shared a PowerPoint presentation that read, in part: “On November 20th, 2019, and thereafter publicly, the Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) has expressed a deliberate interest to consolidate the Maple Grove Charter School. In this documented singular consideration, we have acted to protect and ensure the continuance of our beloved rural school.”
“In this determination, we have filed petitions in accordance with State Statute 117.12 to detach greater than 18,000 acres from MAPS and attach to the Athens School District.”
The petitions to detach from MAPS and attach to the Athens School District would require 50% of electors in the territory affected and 50% of the property owners in the territory to sign indicating their approval, according to State Statute. Hamburg residents far surpassed that requirement, with 458 unique property owners, who hold more than 75 percent of the land in the MAPS district within the town of Hamburg, signing. In addition, 349 electors in the 18,000-acre territory, which is 58 percent, signed in support of the redistricting. Signatures were collected by supporters going door-to-door and by word of mouth.
The presentation, led by Wade and Dr. Angie Servi, who is also a petitioner, elector, and owner in the Hamburg community, outlined the reasons the redistricting could be a win-win for both districts and cited “resounding support from the community. They highlighted Maple Grove’s legacy for providing educational excellence and the success of the school. They referenced the MAPS Strategic Plan and noted how detaching Maple Grove would help MAPS make progress toward three of its four strategic planning goals for the District, namely community partnerships, student and staff wellness, and fiscal responsibility. Parents, teachers, community members, members of the Maple Grove Governing Board, and even a second grader gave testimony in support of the petitions. The BOE asked clarifying questions, including of the Athens District Administrator who was present in the audience.
After meeting in closed executive session, the BOE was not yet prepared to take action. Instead, they requested additional information, planned to conduct a survey to gather additional input, and set a time for a second public hearing.
During the Thursday, Feb. 25, public hearing, Dr. Sample presented additional data based on a survey of middle school and high school students in the affected area and said, of the 19 of 31 families that responded, approximately 61% suggested they would open enroll their students into the MAPS District for middle and high school if the petition was granted. Additional analysis of the financial impact of the detachment on the MAPS District was also considered.
In the end, the MAPS BOE voted unanimously, with two roll call votes, to allow Maple Grove to detach from the MAPS District.
“Maple Grove Charter School is grateful for the community’s overwhelming support of our mission … Mission accomplished.” Wade said on Friday, Mar. 26. “… Maple Grove is going home to the Athens School District.”
Step two … And the Athens District Administrator did his homework
Saturday, Feb. 27, the Maple Grove Foundation Inc., together with the Maple Grove Charter School Governance Board, made a similar presentation to the Athens School District at the Athens BOE public hearing/special meeting, this time seeking attachment to the Athens School District.
Athens School District Administrator, Jeff Mastin, also presented his thoughts. “After doing my research over the past year and a half and having in-depth discussions and attending several meetings with our Athens staff, administration, parents, community members, the Merrill Area Public School District, and you, the Athens Board of Education,” he said, “Not only is adding Maple Grove Charter School to the Athens School District doing what is best for kids, it is also very financially sound.”
He detailed the estimated financial impact for adding Maple Grove to the Athens School District, citing the benefits of immediately increasing District enrollment by 77 students and the approximately $616,000 resulting increase in equalization aid to their District. He also cited the “property value of $54 million dollars which generated $469,880 when tax levied by the Merrill School District in 2019,” saying, “It would bring similar monies into the Athens School District starting in the 2021-2022 school year.”
After itemizing the increased expenses and additional staffing required, Mastin added he would “hope to keep as many of the existing staff as possible as we work with the Merrill administration to maintain Maple Grove’s existing climate and culture, which is so important to their students, parents, staff, and community.”
“While an increase in enrollment will naturally increase expenses, especially within the first year because of start-up costs,” he said,“the revenue increase received from state aid and the increase from adding the Town of Hamburg property tax base would by far exceed these additional expenses and provide financial stability to the District and even a potential decrease to local property taxes.”
“This positive economic growth would benefit the entire Athens school community,” he added.
Mastin also cited the long-term benefits to the District with increased enrollment in the higher grades at the Athens Middle and High School as students graduate from Maple Grove and noted, “Our current 6-12 facilities could easily handle any future growth in enrollments without altering the existing structures, so these additional revenues could be spent to improve and maintain our current two facilities which have an ongoing need for repairs and upgrades,” he added. Additional students could help the District maintain and grow staff levels, as well.
He also referenced “the unprecedented opportunity to allow future Athens High School graduates to apply annually for the Walter and Mable Fromm Scholarship valued at $3.5 million.”
Mastin concluded saying, “In closing, I see no risk by acquiring Maple Grove Charter School.”
The Athens School District Board of Education subsequently voted unanimously to accept the petitions to attach Maple Grove and that portion of the district to the Athens School District.
Maple Grove School celebrates a homecoming
“The opportunity to welcome Maple Grove from the Merrill Area Public Schools back into the Athens School District is a win-win-win opportunity for all three parties involved,” Mastin said. “Merrill Area Public Schools are able to cut costs and move forward with their strategic plan; Athens School District becomes very stable by adding student enrollments, improving learning opportunities, upgrading facilities, and increasing revenues well into the future; and Maple Grove students and parents, along with the entire Town of Hamburg community, will be able to keep their school that has such a rich tradition of excellence, for many years to come.”
“We can now officially welcome the entire Town of Hamburg and the Maple Grove Charter School students and parents back to the Athens School District,” Mastin added. “It’s a Great Day to be a Bluejay and a Fox!”
“Please join us in this homecoming 69 years in the making,” Peter Fromm Wade summarized, referring to the feelings of many Maple Grove families.
After 15 months of uncertainty, and several months of petitions and two weeks of public hearings and presentations, Maple Grove School has come full circle, returning to the Athens School District where it originated. The Little Red Schoolhouse will carry on as a rural school in Hamburg, where future generations can look forward to Maple Grove’s dedication to all that has made them a model school for so many years. At the end of the day, everyone is smiling. And something Peter Fromm Wade said really summed it up: “Never never give up. Especially on children,” he said.