At this time of the school year, Wisconsin school districts may be receiving school district reorganization petitions. There are four (4) types of school district reorganization governed by Wis. Stat. Ch. 117, including consolidation of two (2) or more school districts, dissolution of a school district, creation of a school district, and the detachment of small territory from one school district and its attachment to an adjoining school district initiated by the owner. The most common is the small territory detachment. This article serves as a tool for navigating this process.
Pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 117.12(1), a territory is considered to be small if all of the following apply:
- The assessed value of the territory proposed to be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district, divided by the assessment ratio of the taxation district, is less than 7% of the equalized valuation of the school district from which it is proposed to be detached.
- Less than 7% of the enrollment of the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached resides in the territory proposed to be detached from that school district.
A petition for the detachment/attachment of such a territory must be owner-initiated by either a majority of the electors residing in the territory or the owners of 50% or more of that territory. An owner-initiated petition must be filed on or before January 31 with the clerk of the school district in which the territory is currently located in order to be considered during the same school year. Any petition submitted on or after February 1 is untimely and cannot be considered until the following February. If a petition is timely but the detachment/attachment is ultimately denied, owners may not file another petition for reorganization of any of the same territory the following year, unless the school board of each affected district waives the one-year time bar.
The petition for detachment/attachment must include the following:
- An accurate description of the territory to sufficiently determine its location in the school district in which it is located, as certified by the municipal clerk.
- The number of students residing in the territory who, on the most recent of the preceding 3rd Friday of September or 2nd Friday of January, were enrolled in the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached, as certified by the clerk of that school district.
School district clerks may return petitions as invalid if the petition is missing the description of the territory or if any of the proposed territory was the subject of a petition the previous year and the affected school boards have not adopted resolutions waiving the one-year time bar.
After a school district clerk receives a valid petition, the clerk must send a certified copy of the petition to the school board of the school district to which the territory is proposed to be attached and to the Secretary of the School District Boundary Appeal Board (Secretary) with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) at P.O. Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707-7841.
The school boards of the affected school districts must give the petitioners an opportunity to meet with the school boards, during a public hearing, to present reasons for the proposed reorganization before either school board votes on the proposed reorganization. While the school boards of the affected school districts often hold separate hearings regarding reorganization, they may opt to hold a joint hearing. The DPI provides sample forms and templates for use at and after such hearings, including an agenda/script for reorganization hearings as well as resolutions and orders related to single and joint board meetings.
At the public hearing(s), the affected school boards must consider and weigh the following statutory factors with respect to how they affect the educational welfare of all children residing in the affected school districts:
- The geographical and topographical characteristics of the affected school districts, including the estimated travel time to and from school for students in the school districts;
- The educational needs of all children residing in the affected school districts, the educational programs currently offered by each affected school district and the ability and commitment of each school district to meet those needs and continue to offer those educational programs;
- If territory is proposed to be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district, whether the proposed detachment will have any adverse effect on the program currently offered by the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached, including both curricular and extracurricular aspects of that program;
- The testimony of and written statements filed by the residents of the affected school districts;
- The estimated fiscal effect of the proposed reorganization of the affected school districts, including the effect of the apportionment of assets and liabilities;
- Whether the proposed reorganization will make any part of a school district’s territory noncontiguous;
- The socioeconomic level and racial composition of the students who reside or will reside in territory proposed to be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district; the proportion of the students who reside in such territory who are children at risk, as defined under s. 118.153(1)(a); and the effect that the students described in this paragraph will have on the present and future socioeconomic level and racial composition of the affected school districts and the proportion of the affected school districts’ enrollments that will be children at risk; and
- Any other appropriate factors.
Once the school boards of the affected school districts have considered the statutory factors and the petitioners’ reasons for the proposed reorganization, the school boards must take action by adopting a resolution before March 1 that either grants or denies the reorganization petition. If a school board fails to adopt a resolution by March 1, the failure constitutes a denial of the reorganization petition on behalf of that school board.
Within five (5) days after the adoption of the resolution, each school board must send a certified copy of the resolution to the school board of the other affected school district and file a certified copy of the resolution with the Secretary. The Secretary must then send a certified copy of the resolution by certified mail to the clerk of each city, village, or town in which any part of the territory is located, as well as to the clerk of each county in which any part of an affected school district is located.
If either affected school board denies the petition for reorganization, a majority of the electors residing in the territory or the owners of 50% or more of the territory may appeal the denial by filing a written appeal with the Secretary before March 15 following the denial. Any appeals received by the Secretary after March 14 will be rejected as untimely.
Most appeals are heard by a three-member Appeal Panel, appointed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and comprised of members of the School District Boundary Appeal Board. The Appeal Panel must include one person from a school district with small enrollment, one person from a school district with medium enrollment, and one person from a school district with large enrollment. The Secretary will send a copy of the notice of appeal to the school board of each affected district, and the Appeal Panel will schedule a hearing to consider the arguments of the petitioner and affected school districts.
At the hearing, the Appeal Panel will hear the details of the petition and consider the same factors considered by each affected school board. Before June 15, the Appeal Panel must issue a written order either affirming, denying, or modifying the school board’s denial of the reorganization petition.
If any party is displeased with the Appeal Panel’s order, that party may appeal the order to the circuit court within 30 days after copies of the order are filed with the Secretary.
In the event that both school boards adopt a resolution in favor of the reorganization or the reorganization is otherwise granted by the Appeal Panel, the reorganization will take effect on July 1.
Given the intricacies of the processes and procedures set forth above, school districts that receive petitions for the detachment of small territory from one school district and its attachment to an adjoining school district initiated by the owner are encouraged to contact legal counsel with any questions or concerns before taking action.
For questions regarding this article, please contact the author,
or your Renning, Lewis & Lacy attorney.
Laura E. Pedersen
firstname.lastname@example.org | (844) 626-0909
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