{{featured_button_text}}

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday against Save Our Schools’ appeal of the closure of Madison Elementary, ending a year-long litigation between the community group and the Winona public school district.

“We ‘decline to substitute (our) judgment for the judgment of locally elected officials, who are both most familiar with the community’s issues and most directly accountable to the voters,’” wrote Judge Lucinda Jesson in the unpublished opinion, which means it cannot be cited in future cases as precedent.

After the school board voted last March to close Madison and Rollingstone elementary schools, members of Save Our Schools filed an appeal at the state level in May alleging that the district moved too hastily in its decision to shutter the buildings. In January, attorneys for both sides argued their case for judges Jesson, Kevin Ross and Matthew Johnson.

Save Our Schools later pulled Rollingstone from the case after determining that its buyers did not intend to sell the property again.

Though superintendent Rich Dahman said it “isn’t a surprise” the court ruled the way it did, the district is still pleased to have an answer.

“As much as financial cost, it has been an incredible amount of staff time and energy spent dealing with an issue that should have been settled back when the school board made the decision in March (2018),” he told the Daily News on Monday.

Staff time, he said, included working with lawyers to prepare for the case, informing the school board about the case’s status and the uncertainty of what would happen to the schools if the court had ruled in favor of SOS.

In the opinion, the court agreed with the school district in each of its arguments — that the board’s decision to close the school was supported by substantial evidence, that Dahman’s role in the school-closing process did not violate due process and that the decision was not “arbitrary or capricious.”

Save Our Schools had alleged the decision was rendered arbitrary and capricious by the writing of a newspaper opinion piece by two board members, one of which recused himself in the final decision. The court wrote that the recusal and subsequent consideration of data did not mean that the board “pre-judged” the issue.

In an email Monday evening, Save Our Schools representative Gretchen Michlitsch said the group is disappointed in the outcome of the appeal but respects the court's decision. She added that "it has been sad" to watch the effects of the school closures play out across the district, and that community members can decide for themselves whether the board made a good decision.

"We hope that as our district moves forward, our new school board and new administration will work more thoughtfully with our human and financial resources and do a better job of serving our students and our community," Michlitsch wrote in the email.

Ensnared in this decision is the school district’s other legal proceeding involving Save Our Schools, a lawsuit in the district court that alleges SOS improperly placed a lis pendens, or notice of pending litigation, on the school properties impeding their sale.

As of today that case will proceed, according to the superintendent.

“I think that needs to go to the court and let the court decide whether Save Our Schools had a valid right to place that notice of lis pendens on those properties,” Dahman said.

The groups are scheduled to meet in Winona County court April 24 at 1:30 p.m. for a motion hearing.

“In closing, we acknowledge the significance of a school closure on a close-knit community,” Jesson wrote in the opinion. “By nature, the decision to close a school is a difficult — and inherently political decision. As such, these local decisions are entitled to our deference.”

Update April 16, 2019, 9:16 a.m.: This story has been updated to include a comment from Save Our Schools.

Get the latest local news delivered daily directly to your inbox!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
0
0
0
0
0

Reporter

Madeline Heim covers K-12 & higher education in Winona. A 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she previously interned at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the suburban community arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

(5) comments

killebrew

I urge interested parties to read the appeals court's ruling. Here's the link:
http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/Appellate/Court%20of%20Appeals/Standard%20opinions/OPa180799-041519.pdf

Here's a quick recap:

SOS alleged that the process the WAPS board used to close Rollingstone and Madison schools violated the due process rights of students, parents and the public. The court of appeals disagreed; the court ruled that "the school-closing process did not violate due process." The appeals court also stated that, contrary to what SOS alleged, "the superintendent's role in the school-closing process did not violate due process." I mention that because SOSA made specific allegations against Supt. Dahman, and I think it only fair and proper to point out that, according to the appeals court, SOS was wrong. Supt. Dahman has conducted himself honorably and commendably throughout this agonizing process, often in the face of fierce criticism that is baseless and completely unfair.

SOS alleged that the board decision to close Rollingstone and Madison schools was not supported by substantial evidence. The appeals court concluded otherwise, stating the school board "considered a plethora of data" and that the decision to close the schools "is supported by substantial evidence in the record."

SOS alleged that the board's decision was arbitrary and capricious and was not made in good faith. Again, the appeals court disagreed; the appeals court stated, "the school board's decision is not contrary to the evidence."

To summarize, the appeals court rejected every major aspect of SOSA's lawsuit. It is my sincere hope that the appeals court's ruling ends this matter so everyone in WAPS can put our focus where it rightly belongs, namely on doing the best we can to educate students and be responsible stewards of taxpayer money.

Hive

SOS should be liable for WAPS expenses and court costs...it is public (referendum) money/

RiverHawk

Dahman and the school board members should be liable for the loss of 200 students and $2 million (this year and ongoing) that the terrible decision to close the schools cost the district and the community.

At the moment, Dahman is recommending cutting 19 teaching positions and about a third of the district-wide music program because of the costs of that awful decision.

Speaking in tongues

These buildings had millions of dollars in deferred maintenance. Roofs were leaking, air quality was terrible. Face it these buildings were falling apart. This was needed to be done. As for the cutting of teaching positions it is the correct move. Enrollment has been going down in this district since before the school closings, with the options of charter schools. When the teacher to student ratio is 19:1 that means one thing. Too many teachers not enough students. And with the continuing low test scores from WAPS you can't even make the argument that more teachers equal better scores. There is fat to be trimmed and unfortunately it is at the teacher level.

Speaking in tongues

Absolutely. It was a frivolous lawsuit. Just a bunch of people who have nothing better to do than whine and complain about change. But these people never look at enrollment and the cost of maintain these buildings, just the nostalgia of them. Madison was hot garbage with so much maintenance to be done, and the low student numbers it made sense.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.