Budget Amendment Allows Villages To Pull Out Of Racine Unified

Racine Unified
Photo by Keith Kohlmann

The door has been left wide open for the surrounding villages to pull out of the Racine Unified School District and form their own school district under a provision that could be included in the 2017-2019 proposed state budget.

The question is: When, not if, that could happen.

Under a motion approved by the Joint Finance Committee on Monday, the state budget — if approved with that amendment — would allow the surrounding villages that are part of the Racine Unified School District to form their own school district and RUSD could be headed for a county-appointed takeover.

The amendment to the budget still has to be approved by both the Senate and Assembly and then signed by the Governor.

The Racine Unified School District was designated as failing to meet expectations for its overall score in 2015-16. Of the 33 schools in the district, 11 of them were deemed failing, according to the Department of Public Instruction. But most of those failing schools aren’t in the villages, they are in Racine. And while one village official doesn’t want to see RUSD fail, he does want to see his village have its own school district.

Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said students enrolled in Racine Unified “deserve an excellent education system” and they “cannot wait forever” for a turnaround. But he also acknowledged the work RUSD has been doing to improve.

“In recognition of the changes that have been implemented since the last district report card, the budget allows the implementation of an Opportunity Schools Program to be delayed for one year. This is not a free pass, it is a possible one-year reprieve. RUSD must improve,” he said in a prepared statement.

What Is The Opportunity Schools Program Provision?

The Opportunity Schools Program Provision means some of

those underperforming schools would be pulled out of the school district after a year of being designated as failing. Once a school is deemed as failing, a commissioner would oversee the operation of those schools. That person would be appointed by the county executive from a list of candidates provided by the city’s mayor, the governor and the county executive. Not wanting for that to happen, officials with Unified lobbied to change the time frame from one year to two years in a row.

Stacy Tapp, chief of communication and community engagement with RUSD, said the district is working on improving the district.

“RUSD is urgently focused on improving student achievement results for a better report card,” she said.

Tapp pointed to the Academies of Racine as being transformational, that K-8 achievement scores are improving, and the graduation rate has seen a 2 percent improvement.

“We are confident these gains will be reflected in an improved report card this fall,” she said.

But the language allowing the villages to form their own school districts remains an issue with RUSD.

“We have serious concerns with the latest proposal from the Joint Finance Committee in regard to school district creation. This process would cause severe turmoil, disruption and overall extremely negatively impact our students, our families, and our entire community. We will continue to work with our legislators regarding this proposal,” according to Tapp.

Budget Forces Racine Unified To Consider Handbook Change

The proposal also increases the pressure on the Racine Unified School District to have its handbook comply with Act 10 rules. Under the current handbook, the union and members of the school board can set up a consultation process about benefits and district procedures.

“That’s not OK under Act 10,” said Scott Kelly, chief of staff for Wanggaard.

But if the board is able to correct the issue, the budget — if passed — allows the district to avoid the OSPP an extra year and the villages have an option to hold a binding referendum to split off from RUSD. If the board does not correct the handbook issue, the OSPP goes into effect immediately and the villages are required to have a referendum.

“We need to be prepared if they fail again,” Kelly said.

Most of the failing schools, however, are in Racine, not the villages. They are Mitchell Middle School, SC Johnson, Knapp, Goodland, JI Case High School, McKinley Middle School, Horlick High School, Racine Civil Leaders Academy, Park High School, Starbuck Middle School and Gilmore Middle School. Still, a number of students from outside the city attend those schools.

Still, a number of students from outside the city attend those schools, which has been a sore spot for years.

Villages Could Get Independent School Districts Soon

Some residents living in Mount Pleasant, Caledonia and Sturtevant have talked about forming independent school districts or creating their own unified school district. After passing advisory referendums, Caledonia and Sturtevant approved their respective $15,000 expenditures for a joint study in 2015. Mount Pleasant didn’t have a referendum or approve the funding.

However, the proposed 2017-2019 budget allows for the DPI to spend $75,000 updating a previous study that analyzed the effect of reorganizing a school district that meets certain criteria.

Caledonia Village Board member Ed Willing was one of the biggest supporters of Caledonia having its own school district.

“How I’m taking this is that it’s an olive branch to both,” he said. “It appears that they are no longer requiring the status quo — that we ask RUSD permission to have our own school district.”

While Willing has been a proponent of Caledonia having its own school district, he’s not rooting for Racine Unified to fail, he said.

“I want us to succeed and we need to have back up plan in place with Foxconn and other businesses possibly coming to the area,” he said. “We need to be prepared and we can’t afford to delay.”

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Denise Lockwood
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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.