The Palmyra-Eagle College District nearly dissolved. Two years later, leaders are looking forward to the longer term | WUWM 89.7 FM

Two years in the past, the agricultural Palmyra-Eagle College District, which spans components of Jefferson and Waukesha Counties, was on the verge of dissolution.

However a state-appointed board denied the dissolution request, giving the district one other likelihood to handle its monetary challenges.

The district of about 600 college students closed an elementary faculty, moved sixth graders to its center/highschool, downsized administrative employees, and quickly reduce worker pay. It additionally skilled an nearly full turnover in management, who introduced with them a unique perspective on the monetary scenario.

Now, leaders say Palmyra-Eagle is financially secure.

Palmyra Elementary College stands empty. The district closed it in 2020 to save cash. Now Eagle Elementary is the one Okay-5 faculty within the district.

Katie Robertson took over as principal at Eagle Elementary a 12 months and a half in the past, after the district shuttered Palmyra Elementary College and moved its college students to Eagle.

“We needed to turn into one elementary faculty,” Robertson stated. “So we weren’t divided into Palmyra college students or Eagle college students. We confer with ourselves as a part of Panther Nation and being actually a part of that college neighborhood and specializing in constructing one thing collectively.”

On a current Friday morning, Robertson stopped by a 4-year-old kindergarten class the place college students had been portray photos of sea creatures.

“Do you know blue, yellow and white makes inexperienced?” one pupil introduced.

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4-year-old kindergarten college students paint photos of octopuses. Eagle Elementary’s 4K enrollment was excessive sufficient this 12 months so as to add a 3rd classroom. All different grade ranges have two school rooms.

Final 12 months, Eagle Elementary began a full-day 4K program and before-and-after-school care to attempt to entice households. It appears to have labored this faculty 12 months.

“We went from 42 4K [students] final 12 months to 63 this 12 months,” Robertson stated. “So we had so as to add an additional part.”

It may very well be a hopeful signal after years of plummeting enrollment.

In 10 years, Palmyra-Eagle has gone from greater than 1,000 college students to lower than 600. It’s surrounded by larger districts and loses a whole bunch of scholars to them via open enrollment. Particularly, many Eagle households select neighboring Mukwonago faculties, that are on the route for fogeys commuting east.

Assistant principal Joel Tortomasi, who has held a wide range of roles throughout his 18 years at Palmyra-Eagle, stated the district serves two very totally different communities.

“It is a rural however suburban neighborhood,” Tortomasi, who lives in Palmyra, stated. “So many individuals in Eagle commute to Waukesha, commute to Milwaukee to work. And Palmyra is rather more agricultural and extra farm neighborhood — but it surely’s all one district with totally different household views and instructions their youngsters are going to go.”

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Eagle Elementary Principal Katie Robertson says goodbye to college students leaving for the day.

Principal Robertson stated the neighborhood ought to struggle for its native faculties, even when many households are opting out.

“The higher your native faculties are the extra enticing they’re to oldsters, the extra those that wish to set down roots, the extra companies that may come,” Robertson stated. “So simply since you don’t have a pupil right here at Eagle Elementary, doesn’t imply that you simply aren’t benefitting from a very sturdy public neighborhood faculty.”

Open enrollment continues to empty college students from Palmyra-Eagle, however this 12 months, the variety of kids leaving the district fell barely, and the quantity coming in rose. For the primary time in a number of years, the district’s complete pupil depend was secure in comparison with the earlier 12 months.

“I believe it looks like we’re turning a nook,” stated Palmyra-Eagle Center/Excessive College Principal Kari Timm.

Timm has been with the district for 21 years, via the monetary uncertainty, and now via a pandemic.

“We speak quite a bit about dwelling in survival mode for actually two years, as a result of we did,” Timm stated. “And now this 12 months making an attempt to push previous that to thriving mode.”

In the course of the two faculty years the place dissolution was looming, there was a significant exodus of academics from the district. This 12 months, Timm says staffing has stabilized, however colleagues generally ask her: is the district’s monetary disaster actually over?

“Can I inform you financially the way it’s potential? I can’t, I’ll be trustworthy,” Timm stated. “However I consider the place we’re proper now could be in place financially.”

Two years in the past, the Palmyra-Eagle faculty board stated declining enrollment and a failed tax referendum made dissolution the one viable choice.

The state appointed a committee of faculty board members from different areas to resolve. That committee denied the dissolution, saying the district might strive different cost-saving measures.

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Palmyra-Eagle highschool college students testified to the state-appointed boundary attraction board in November 2019. In January 2020, the boundary attraction board denied the district’s petition to the dissolve.

New individuals took over the Palmyra faculty board and the administration and made lots of these modifications.

Todd Grey, a retired Waukesha superintendent, is now Palmyra-Eagle’s part-time administrator. He stated the monetary scenario was not as unhealthy as earlier leaders thought.

“Primarily based on what I’ve seen, the analysis I’ve executed wanting on the previous few years, perhaps six years of taking a look at their financials, I’m stunned they went proper to dissolution with out taking a look at a few of the mandatory reductions and cuts that wanted to be made,” Grey stated.

Grey stated the district is right-sized now and has constructed a wholesome fund stability.

Like faculties throughout the county, the district is receiving federal COVID aid cash, however Grey stated none of that has been spent on plugging funds holes.

Wisconsin Rural College Alliance Director Kim Kaukl stated different rural Wisconsin districts have been compelled to make painful choices to remain afloat, like closing faculties and shedding employees.

“There’s lots of districts which can be on the precipice the place one little glitch might ship them in that course like what occurred with Palmyra-Eagle, with declining enrollments,” Kaukl stated. “They’ve needed to make some very powerful choices.”

Kaukl stated tight funding has additionally prompted creativity in rural districts. One instance is the Trempealeau Valley Cooperative, a gaggle of 4 small districts that share profession and technical training academics.

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A “Panther Nation” signal is displayed in a window at Eagle Elementary College.

On the finish of the college day at Eagle Elementary, dad and mom line up in automobiles to select up college students. Eagle resident Marie Sackett, ready for her nine-year-old daughter, is grateful the district remains to be standing.

“Largely we just like the smaller-town really feel, much less youngsters, extra one-on-one consideration,” Sackett stated. “Yeah, good morals and good moral upbringing in a smaller city faculty district, we simply felt.”

The small, household really feel of the Palmyra-Eagle district is what leaders wish to promote to households going ahead, with the hope that they will curb enrollment declines and by no means look towards dissolution once more.

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