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Verdict Looms on Whether Insolvent Wisconsin District Can Dissolve

Palmyra-Eagle, a mostly rural school district in Southeast Wisconsin, lost half its student body to open enrollment and then quickly ran out of cash. 

Last summer, its school board threw up its hands and asked the state to dissolve it and send its 600 students to surrounding districts. There's no other way, the board decided, for teachers and administrators to provide students with a quality education and to stop the bleeding. 

Things come to a head Thursday night, when a special panel set up by the state is set to decide whether to approve or deny the dissolution. 

The plan faces long odds. All of Palmyra-Eagle's neighboring districts are reluctant to take on the district's $11 million of debt and fear that taking on so many students at once will ultimately lead to their own demise, too. One district threatened to sue. 

The state-appointed panel must decide whether to dissolve the district and risk fiscally damaging surrounding districts, or keep the district open and let parents and administrators figure out a way to keep it alive.

One very determined group of parents has pitched selling off one of the district's elementary schools, moving to a four-day school week, and asking a local philanthropist and residents to pay out of pocket for many of the district's costs, including its elaborate after-school and sports programs. 

The panel has heard more than 17 hours of testimony over the last three months from residents for and against the dissolution. The late-night meetings have led to shouting matches and tears. Many residents are frustrated that the state could potentially deny what the district last summer democratically elected to do. 

Meanwhile, other superintendents in the state who oversee financially struggling districts on the brink of insolvency are watching the process closely. 

Read Education Week's coverage here

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