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Hamburg residents begin petition drive

Hamburg residents begin petition drive Hamburg residents begin petition drive

Organizers hope to attach land to Athens School District

Supporters of Maple Grove School hope to gather sufficient signatures on petitions by Sept. 18 to persuade the Wisconsin School District Boundary Appeals Board to shift most of the town of Hamburg property from Merrill Area Public Schools (MAPS) to Athens School District, organizer Peter Fromm Wade said Thursday at a special town board meeting.

The goal of the petition is to save Maple Grove School, a crimson-colored, rural K-5 school started in 1904, which has survived threats of closure for decades.

Wade told two dozen school supporters he hoped to hand over two petitions, one signed by property owners and a second one by voters, to show that majorities of both groups support detachment of $47 million worth of property to Athens School District. “Then we win,” declared Fromm Wade.” We’ll throw a big party.”

Fromm Wade said the detachment plan “was not a slam dunk, but highly achievable” and that the school’s best future resided in the Athens district, which seeks more students, not in MAPS, which, facing financial difficulties, has recently closed numerous elementary schools and continues to try and close Maple Grove School.

Fromm Wade told his audience a decision by Marathon County circuit court judge Michael Moran, dismissing a Merrill school board complaint that Maple Grove School has violated its public charter school contract, will keep the school open for the 2020-21 school year, but not after that.

He fretted that MAPS would in two years close and abandon Maple Grove School like it did Scott School on STH 64 and which, without maintenance, has been reduced to “a junkpile.”

The petition is being gathered in large binders. Signing events will be planned at the Hamburg Municipal Building. Petition organizers said, like in the past, they will gather signatures in a door-to-door campaign.

Fromm Wade said the state appeals board normally deals with a property or two that wishes to move property from one school district to the next. He said it was quite unusual for a large chunk of a township to seek relocation to a new school district.

“It’s a big deal,” he said.

Fromm Wade said the town of Hamburg once was home to four different school districts, but now only has three. He said only Merrill school district property owners and electors would be able to sign the petition, but not Marathon or Athens school district citizens.

The petition organizer said he was not sure the Merrill Board of Education would accept detachment petitions voluntarily. Maple Grove School supporters may need to go to court to force the school district to accept the petition documents, he said.

If Hamburg property is attached to Athens School District, Fromm Wade said it is his belief that a $3.5 million Mabel and Walter Fromm scholarship fund, created from the the family’s legendary fox farm and ginseng business, would transfer to the Athens district but added that, realistically, such a transfer would likely be decided in court. The scholarship has provided college dollars for graduates of Maple Grove School over the years.

Fromm Wade said, he is sure the Fromms, his grandparents, would support such a transfer of the scholarship trust to Athens. “It would be awesome,” he said. “Just the way Walter and Mabel would want it.”

He said attaching Hamburg property to Athens School District would likely result in a significant school property tax increase. He said, however, that Merrill School District would likely, over time, increase its taxes to pay off its debts. Athens School District, he said, had relatively little debt and was “frugal” in its spending.

Fromm Wade said Hamburg property owners could shift their property to Athens School District, but that MAPS would continue to own Maple Grove School and the three parcels it sits on. He said state law would require MAPS to let the Maple Grove School governance board use the school.

From Wade predicted a bright future for Maple Grove School once it joins a supportive school district and that, with a little stability, “there will be a waiting list of students at that school.”

He said the school will be able to enjoy a 125th birthday in 2029.

“We’re going to have a party,” he said. “That’s not too far away.”

Merrill Area School District superintendent Dr. John Sample declined to comment on this story.

ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING-Roughly two dozen Hamburg town residents gathered Thursday to begin a petition drive to shift property from the Merrill School District to Athens School District.