(First published in the January 9, 2020 issue of City Pages)
Though the storied elementary school is on the chopping block, supporters say it will stay open one way or another, maybe under a new district
Angie Servie, president of the Maple Grove Foundation Governance Board, speaks Tuesday at a school district meeting at Merrill High School’s auditorium. Parents and the governance board say they’re ready to fight to keep the school open, one way or another.
The more than 100-year-old little red school house could avoid closure by continuing under a new school district. The governing board of Maple Grove Charter elementary school in Hamburg, near the border of Lincoln and Marathon counties, voted to start negotiations with Merrill Area Public Schools about the possibility of detaching the school from MAPS and joining with another district.
Leaders on the board stopped short of naming a specific district in their motion Monday, but officials say the Athens District has expressed interest in taking on the forest-based schoolhouse.
The Merrill District is looking to close Maple Grove Elementary School as part of a plan for building consolidation. The school has operating continuously since 1870 (current building was built in 1904). It was built by the famed Fromm Bros. company primarily for the families who worked on what became the largest fur farm on the continent. A foundation for the school was formed in 2018 when the idea of closing the school surfaced.
Merrill Area Public School district held a public meeting Tuesday on the potential closure, which hasn’t yet been decided on. Though light on details, district officials cited declining enrollments, and a potential savings of $437,000 in the first year of closure, primarily through teacher salaries. That number could vary, according to MAPS Director of Finance Brian Dasher.
If the school becomes part of another district, there is a good chance most students would stay with Maple Grove and MAPS would lose money through lost enrollment. If all 82 Maple Grove students were to leave the district, it would cost $660,000, according to data presented by MAPS.
Several parents spoke about the folly of closing the one-of-a-kind school, some saying it was one of the few unique things Merrill had to attract new people to the area. The school’s idyllic, rural setting allows for hands-on learning that includes caring for chickens, playing in a forest, producing maple syrup and snowshoeing in the winter. Graduates of the school have access to the Fromm Scholarship, which can provide up to $8,000 toward higher education for eligible alumni of the elementary school.
Many parents drive their kids extra distance to the school when a nearby school would be easier. Some even moved to the area just so their child could attend Maple Grove.
Peter Fromm Wade, president of the Maple Grove Foundation, told the governance board Monday that the foundation has six figures in funding to help with Maple Grove’s legal expenses. “Don’t feel like you don’t have backing, because you do,” Wade told the group.