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Neighborhoods lose bid to join Elmbrook, again

Petition supporter calls state law 'unwinnable'

May 18, 2011

Property owners on the west side of the city of Brookfield and the east side of the town of Brookfield last week lost another appeal to detach from the Waukesha School District and join the Elmbrook School District.

Residents in the affected neighborhoods launched similar unsuccessful petitions in 2000 and 2009, and one of the organizers of this year's effort said she's starting to think it is a lost cause.

"I don't feel that the process is a winnable process, and I guess it's just disappointment that we felt we had all of the information (for a successful case)," said Toni Kroeplin, who lives in the Black Forest subdivision in the town of Brookfield.

The state's School Boundary Appeals Board last week denied the request of nearly 200 property owners in the Black Forest, Summit Lawn, Emerald Ridge and Shire subdivisions to leave the Waukesha School District and join Elmbrook.

The board voted, 3-0, to deny the Shire, Summit Lawn and Black Forest petition, and the Emerald Ridge request was voted down, 2-1.

Waukesha schools considered

Keith Brightman, Elmbrook's assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said the board gave several reasons for the denial, including the impact of the loss of taxing authority the relocation would have on Waukesha School District, which is already facing a multimillion-dollar deficit for 2011-12. The board estimated the loss of taxing authority at $300,000 to $400,000.

The financial piece is one of several factors that the board is supposed to look at when it weighs a potential detachment, but Kroeplin said it seems like that was the only impact the panel considered.

"I just don't feel that they're looking at anything but money," she said.

Kroeplin said there will be financial winners and losers in any detachment case, and other factors need to be considered when making a decision.

Residents who spoke at the February meeting where the Elmbrook School Board approved the petition cited some of those factors, including the proximity of the neighborhoods to Elmbrook schools and the fact that residents pay taxes to the city and town of Brookfield yet send their children to school in Waukesha.

Statute questioned

Elmbrook unanimously approved the petitions in February, but the Waukesha School Board voted against them the same week, which meant the issue was sent to the School Boundary Appeals Board.

Brightman, who attended the appeals board hearing in Madison, said Waukesha was openly critical of Elmbrook's approval of the detachment petitions, as well as the district's restrictions on Open Enrollment seats. Waukesha argued that Elmbrook could use Open Enrollment to allow the families in the petition areas to attend Elmbrook schools.

Kroeplin said she thinks the only way for a detachment petition to work is to change the statute to include language on a minimum financial impact a move would have on the district that's losing properties. She said the neighborhoods asking for detachment from Waukesha account for only a small part - less than 1 percent, by her calculations - of the Waukesha district's $185 million annual budget.

AT A GLANCE

Some of the criteria used by the School District Boundary Appeal Board to evaluate detachment requests:

geographical characteristics of the affected school districts, including estimated travel time to and from school

educational needs of children in the affected school districts and educational programs offered by each district

whether detachment from one district to another will have adverse effect on the programs currently offered by the school district that will lose properties

testimony and written statements from residents of the affected school districts

estimated fiscal effect of the proposed reorganization on both districts

whether the proposed reorganization will make any part of a district's territory noncontiguous

 

- Source: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

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