Marathon County judge: MAPS cannot close Maple Grove Elementary
116-year-old Town of Hamburg charter school will operate next year
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
WAUSAU – Marathon County Judge Michael K. Moran ruled on Tuesday, June 9 that the Merrill Area Public School District (MAPS) cannot close Maple Grove Elementary School. The District sought to close the school due to declining enrollment and alleged that Maple Grove had violated multiple terms of the contract between the District and the school.
Moran granted an injunction requested by the Friends of Maple Grove, Inc. in February that sought to stop the District from shutting down the nearly 116-year-old charter school located in the Town of Hamburg, and he ruled that Maple Grove had not violated the contract.
The District said it plans to appeal the decision.
Maple Grove will operate for the 2020-2021 school year.
MAPS holds November preliminary discussion, January listening session
The MAPS Board of Education held a preliminary discussion regarding the closure of Maple Grove on Nov. 20, 2019. So many people attended the meeting, a large number of whom were against shutting down the school, that it was held in the Merrill High School auditorium rather than the MAPS Central Office, where meetings usually take place.
The District pointed to declining enrollment as a reason for considering closing Maple Grove. Parents of students and others from the Hamburg community cited the unique style of learning provided at Maple Grove, the District losing enrollment if the school were to close and the contract between the two entities when stating their opinions why the school should remain open. The contract between the District and Maple Grove is effective through June 30, 2022.
The Board held a community information and listening session about closing the school on Jan. 7, 2020, where MAPS Superintendent Dr. John Sample listed the District’s dwindling enrollment, a trend he said would continue according to projections, among multiple reasons for shuttering Maple Grove.
Before the meeting’s public comment period, Governance Board Vice President Stevie Klockziem told the audience that the Governance Board would “like to work together with the MAPS school board to find a mutually beneficial solution to help MAPS reach the goals in their strategic plan, including smarter spending, while allowing Maple Grove to stay open indefinitely.”
“We are taking the preservation of Maple Grove very seriously and are prepared to fight to prevent Maple Grove from closing,” Klockziem stated. “If the Merrill School Board decides to move forward with breaking their contract with Maple Grove Charter School, our board is in favor of exploring different options, including the possibility of detaching from the MAPS District and joining a different school district.”
Athens School District expresses interest in Maple Grove
The School District of Athens stated in early January that it was interested in making Maple Grove part of its district as a charter school.
The Governance Board asked the District to release Maple Grove from the District so it could join the Athens District. No action was taken by the District before the March 1 deadline to inform the state of the change.
School District of Athens Administrator Jeff Mastin said his District “may still be interested in picking up Maple Grove in the future, depending on the circumstances.”
“However, we have yet to hear back from the Merrill School District after we reached out to them on a few occasions,” Mastin stated.
MAPS issues letter of default to Maple Grove
In a closed session at a meeting on Jan. 15, the MAPS Board of Education decided Maple Grove had violated its contract with the District. The MAPS Board of Education voted 6 to 2 in open session to provide the Maple Grove Governance Board with a list of defaults the District felt Maple Grove had committed.
On Jan. 20, legal counsel for the District issued a letter of default to Maple Grove, saying, “The pupils of MGS failed to make progress pursuant to Section 5 of the Contract for 3 consecutive years,” “The Governance Board is not implementing the Educational Program of MGS as promised and represented to the District in the Contract,” and “MGS has insufficient enrollment to successfully operate as determined by the District.”
The letter said if the defaults were not “cured to the satisfaction of the District” by April 1, MAPS would be able to close Maple Grove.
Friends of Maple Grove, Inc. files injunction
The Friends of Maple Grove, Inc. filed an injunction in Marathon County court on Feb. 28 that sought to stop the District from closing the school.
Moran granted the injunction on June 9, and also ruled that Maple Grove was “not in violation of failing to make sufficient academic progress,” the school was not “violating the contract with its educational program of project-based thematic learning,” and the school’s enrollment “was not insufficient to operate.”
District, Maple Grove react to ruling
MAPS Board of Education President Kevin J. Blake said on Wednesday, June 10 that the District is “disappointed” in the court’s ruling, which “prohibits the District from terminating the contract with the Maple Grove Governance Board based on the Notice of Events of Default.”
Sample said the District plans to appeal the decision.
“In the meantime, the District will continue its mission to serve all Merrill Area Public School students,” Sample stated.
Maple Grove will operate during the 2020-2021 school year.
“We are extremely pleased with the judge’s ruling and look forward to a successful year at Maple Grove next year,” Maple Grove Governance Board President Angela Servi said.