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A time for dialogue

The Marathon City Village Board had an important planning conversation last week Tuesday. Now, the village board needs to have another.

In the meeting, village board members said they wanted growth. Specifically, the trustees said they wanted to find a private developer willing to deliver a new housing subdivision with homes in the $250,000 range. They envisioned those homes peopled with young professionals raising school age children.

In their deliberations, the trustees were acutely aware their plans could impact Marathon Public Schools. More houses would mean more children, they recognized, but also new students at the public school. The trustees said it would work out fine. The new resident students would replace current Open Enrollment students and, with extra new in-district pupils, the district would receive more state aid.

Trustees saw their single family housing plan as a win-winwin. The village would get more tax base, the school district would get more tax base and, should the district need more teachers and supplies, the district would receive more money from the state.

Where the village members went wrong, however, is thinking that new resident students could replace current Open Enrollment pupils. They can’t.

Marathon School District administrator Rick Parks on Monday confirmed that current Open Enrollment students are guaranteed enrollment going forward unless they are habitually truant or expelled from the school.

What this means is that, yes, the village can have a developer set up a nice, new subdivision on one of several properties in the village and, as expected, the new families will enroll additional children in Marathon Public School, but that these children, according to law and district policy, will not replace Open Enrollment students, but add to them. This would likely exacerbate the space problem at Marathon Area Elementary School (MAES) and Marathon Venture Academy (MVA). The district, which just set the cornerstone on a $4.265 million school addition last year, would then need to think about yet another referendum to add classrooms and other amenities.

What you have are two competing visions. In planning for the last school referendum, district residents seriously considered building a new middle school adjacent to Marathon High School, freeing up room over at MAES/MVA, but, in the end, decided against the middle school, feeling they wanted to keep their small school. The village board, however, wants more homes and more families--with Marathon Public Schools expanding as needed.

Can these two visions co-exist? Could there be a compromise? Well, maybe, but it won’t be so simple. In the village’s vision, more housing is needed to spur added retail and industry. This is not necessarily the vision of township residents that make up a majority of people in the school district. These people have voted to support their local public school decade after decade, but not to, necessarily, accommodate the village’s plans for its growth.

So, this is where a second conversation is needed. The Marathon City Village Board needs to have discussions with the Marathon Board of Education to discuss how to move forward. Further, the village needs to reach out to township residents to make the case for growth and why, as district taxpayers, they should welcome another school district building referendum.

Since the last referendum, the Marathon Board of Education has purchased an entire block of land west of Marathon High School. A new middle school could be located there. It would cost millions of dollars, but maybe it would be the best investment the school district ever made. Or maybe it would cost Marathon School District its intimate, small school feel.

Let the conversations begin.