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At its meeting Thursday night, the Winona public school board authorized the district’s counsel to pursue legal action against the Save Our Schools committee over a matter concerning the sale process for Madison and Rollingstone elementary schools.

The decision is a result of a notice of lis pendens — meaning a notice of pending litigation — that is attached to the titles of both Madison and Rollingstone. It alerts those interested in the buildings that a court case could still have an effect on what happens to them.

The district’s counsel will allege that the lis pendens was improper and is a “slander of title,” meaning it falsely disparages the titles to the buildings.

“It is our duty to give (the buyers) a clean title,” said board vice chair Tina Lehnertz. The motion to authorize counsel received an almost-unanimous vote, with the exception of board member Allison Quam.

Save Our Schools lawsuit marches forward as oral arguments are scheduled

In November, representatives of Save Our Schools received a letter from the school district’s attorney Joseph Langel warning them of possible litigation that could be pursued because the lis pendens notice serves as a “cloud on title.” A previous attempt to ask Save Our Schools to discharge the notice was made, but was denied by the group.

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Gretchen Michlitsch mug

Gretchen Michlitsch

Save Our Schools representative Gretchen Michlitsch said she was surprised by the board’s decision. The group issued the following in a statement Thursday night:

“SOS finds it incredibly disheartening that the WAPS superintendent and members of the public school board have chosen to sue a group of concerned citizens who have acted in good faith as strong proponents of public schools.”

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Rich Dahman

Dahman

Superintendent Rich Dahman said both the original buyer of Rollingstone, Michael Corcoran, and the potential buyer of Madison, Andrew Brenner, expressed concern that the notice was attached to the titles of the buildings.

SOLD: Winona school district sells Central for $250,000, Madison for $110,000

Dahman told the Daily News Tuesday that Brenner asked the district to “do whatever (they) can to try to get it removed,” since a lis pendens can affect future developments to the property, such as a loan to begin construction.

The district’s counsel will file the suit as soon as possible, Dahman said Thursday night, and it would then be scheduled to go before a district judge. He added that it’s unclear whether this matter would be resolved before the oral arguments are set to be heard Jan. 23 by the Court of Appeals for Save Our Schools’ original appeal.

While separate from the lis pendens issue, the appeal was filed by Save Our Schools in May and will allege that the school district acted too hastily in their closures of the schools. That appeal is the “pending litigation” that the notice of lis pendens refers to.

‘Blindsided’: Decade-old grant for Madison school will subtract nearly $40,000 from its sale profit

Although Rollingstone was sold in September, the sale to Brenner of Madison has not yet been finalized due to a forgotten grant that prevented the sale of the building without giving notice to the state. Dahman said the state has since signed off on the sale and a closing is likely within a week. It will not change the district’s decision to take legal action.

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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.

(2) comments

Urban Farmer

The district has the funds for a lawsuit? Is this sound management?

Paul Harvey

The district should not engage in gamesmanship.

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