Their plight “is symbolic of rural education in Wisconsin (and the Midwest) which lags far behind the suburbs and, in Wisconsin, performs worse academically than urban schools,” CJ Szafir, executive vice president at Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), told The Center Square.
WILL filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of Shepherd’s Watch, the local Christian community group run by Wade Reimer. Reimer attempted to purchase the vacant Mattoon Elementary school building to use it as a community center and eventually a Christian school.
A Shawano County judge will hear WILL’s argument Friday and either decide then, or by the end of August.
“Children in Mattoon deserve a high quality, local school and right now there is nothing,” Szafir said. “Yet the Antigo School District would rather have an empty school building sit empty than sell it to a Christian community group with the hopes of turning it into a private school. We’re asking the judge to allow our client to intervene into the case so their story could be heard.”
To date, the district has closed seven rural schools. All students attending public school must travel to the city of Antigo, some commuting 90 minutes round trip.
It, like other districts, argues the schools are “too expensive to run,” but it won’t sell a vacant building, but it won’t sell it to anyone who wants to open a private school, according to the lawsuit.
“The Antigo School District says they own the building and refuses to sell it unless there is a promise made to not use it for a school,” Anthony LoCoco, deputy counsel on the case, told WSAU radio. “They don’t want the competition of a private school because some children from Mattoon would go to a local elementary school and they would lose funds.”
Unified School District of Antigo Superintendent Dr. Julie Sprague told The Center Square she was unable to comment due to the pending litigation.
Last fall, Antigo School District business manager Tim Prunty told the Antigo Daily Journal that opening a private school would make public schools like Antigo receive less federal aid, WJFW News 12 reported.