Legal Updates


Small Territory Detachment and Attachment (School District Reorganization)

January 28, 2020

Every year, school districts across the state receive school district reorganization petitions; yet, the process of addressing such petitions can be confusing. This article will provide an overview of the process for addressing small territory detachment and attachment petitions.

School district reorganizations are governed by Wis. Stat. Ch. 117. A school district “reorganization” is “the consolidation of two or more school districts, the dissolution of a school district, the detachment of territory from one school district and its attachment to an adjoining school district or the creation of a school district.”

The most common form of reorganization petition is a petition for detachment and attachment of a small territory initiated by the owner, which applies to the detachment of territory from one school district and the attachment of the same territory to an adjoining school district if all of the following apply:

  • The assessed value of the territory proposed to be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district, divided by the assessment ratio of the taxation district, is less than 7% of the equalized valuation of the school district from which it is proposed to be detached.
  • Less than 7% of the enrollment of the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached resides in the territory proposed to be detached from that school district.

To initiate the process of a small territory detachment and attachment, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 117.12, the owners must file a petition with the clerk of the school district in which the territory is located requesting the detachment of the territory from that school district and its attachment to an adjoining school district.  The petition must include a description of the territory that is sufficiently accurate to ascertain its location within the school district.  The municipal clerk must certify the description.  In addition, the petition must identify the number of pupils residing in that territory who, on the most recent of the preceding 3rd Friday of September or 2nd Friday of January, were enrolled in the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached.  The school district clerk must receive the petition before February 1 in order to be considered that school year.

Shortly after receiving the petition, the school district clerk must send a certified copy of the petition to the school board of the school district to which the territory is proposed to be attached.

During the month of February, the school board for the school district in which the territory is located, and the school board for the school district to which the petitioners are seeking to attach the territory, must each hold a public hearing to allow the petitioners and other interested parties to present reasons for and against the proposed school district reorganization.  Most school boards hold separate public hearings, although the law allows the school boards to hold a joint hearing. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has published a sample agenda and script for such a hearing: https://dpi.wi.gov/sms/reorganization/forms/hearing-agenda

During the public hearing, each school board must consider the statutory criteria for reorganization.  Specifically, the school boards must consider the following factors as they affect the educational welfare of all of the children residing in all of the affected school districts:

  • The geographical and topographical characteristics of the affected school districts, including the estimated travel time to and from school for pupils in the school districts.
  • The educational needs of all of the children residing in the affected school districts, the educational programs currently offered by each affected school district and the ability and commitment of each school district to meet those needs and continue to offer those educational programs.
  • Whether the proposed detachment will have any adverse effect on the program currently offered by the school district from which the territory is proposed to be detached, including both curricular and extracurricular aspects of that program.
  • The testimony of and written statements filed by the residents of the affected school districts.
  • The estimated fiscal effect of the proposed reorganization on the affected school districts, including the effect of the apportionment of assets and liabilities.
  • Whether the proposed reorganization will make any part of a school district’s territory noncontiguous.
  • The socioeconomic level and racial composition of the pupils who reside or will reside in territory proposed to be detached from one school district and attached to an adjoining school district, in territory proposed to be included in a new school district; the proportion of the pupils who reside in such territory who are children at risk, as defined under Wis. Stat. § 118.153 (1)(a); and the effect that the pupils described in this paragraph will have on the present and future socioeconomic level and racial composition of the affected school districts and on the proportion of the affected school districts’ enrollments that will be children at risk.
  • Other appropriate factors.

After considering the information presented during the public hearing, and applying the statutory factors, the school boards must take action to grant or deny the petition for reorganization by adopting such a resolution before March 1.  Within 5 days after the adoption of the resolution, each school board must notify the petitioner, the other school board, and DPI, of the school board’s decision. 

If the school board grants the petition, the school board must also notify the clerk of each city, village, or town in which any part of the territory is located and the clerk of each county in which any part of an affected school district is located.

If either of the school boards deny the petition for reorganization, the petitioners may appeal the school board’s order denying detachment of a small territory by filing a written appeal with the Secretary of the School District Boundary Appeal Board before March 15 following the denial. 

In most cases, the School District Boundary Appeal Board will appoint a three member panel from the members of the School District Boundary Appeal Board to hear the appeal.  The panel must include a member from a school district with small enrollment, a member from a school district with medium enrollment, and a member from a school district with large enrollment.  The panel will schedule a hearing to consider the arguments of the affected school districts and the petitioner.  At the end of the hearing, the panel will consider the statutory criteria referenced above and determine whether to affirm, deny, or modify the school board’s denial of the reorganization petition. 

Thereafter, if one of the parties is displeased with the panel’s decision, they have the option of appealing the matter to the circuit court within 30 days after copies of the order are filed with the Secretary of the School District Boundary Appeal Board.

If the school boards or the School District Boundary Appeal Board grants the petition for a small territory detachment and attachment, it will be effective on the following July 1.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Shana R. Lewis (email: slewis@strangpatteson.com; telephone: 844-826-0902), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis & Lacy, s.c., attorney.

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