Group sues to buy vacant Mattoon Elementary, open Christian school; Antigo School District seeks to block planSubmitted: 07/17/2019
Ben Meyer
Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter

Group sues to buy vacant Mattoon Elementary, open Christian school; Antigo School District seeks to block plan
MATTOON - Wade Reimer thinks it's pretty simple.

There's a vacant school in the village of Mattoon, southeast of Antigo.

He wants to buy it and turn it into a Christian community center, and, someday, a school.

Reimer says the community is behind him.

But the Unified School District of Antigo is not.

In 2016, people in Mattoon fought as the district closed the school, saying rural elementary schools like Mattoon were too expensive to run. A year later, many of the same people tried unsuccessfully to open their own school district.

"Honestly, I felt like this little town was targeted," said Zak Kickhaver, who lives in Mattoon and has two young children.

This year, the district closed three more rural elementary schools. It has now closed seven overall, and all elementary students will attend school in the city of Antigo.

But now, Kickhaver likes a new option, a potential private, Christian school in Mattoon.

"With possibly a Christian education center here, it's ideal. It's great. That makes me happy. That makes me excited," Kickhaver said. "I get mad when I talk about Antigo [Schools], but this makes me very happy."

Reimer and his group, Shepherd's Watch, are driving the effort to buy the building and open a Christian community center, then a school, at the Mattoon Elementary site.

"I'm a gentleman that believes in prayer," Reimer said. "My faith is important to me. I see the Lord's hand at work here, because now, we have an opportunity to have a Christian school here, possibly."

But the Antigo School District doesn't like the plan. It's refusing to sell the building unless the buyer agrees no school will ever open at the site.

Last September, district business manager Tim Prunty told the Antigo Daily Journal a private school could drain students and money from the district. With fewer students, the district would be eligible for less state aid.

"Financially, they're hurting. The more kids that leave the school district in Antigo financially puts a dollar loss to them," Reimer said.

The Village of Mattoon and adjacent Town of Hutchins have opened a lawsuit against the Antigo School District, pushing for the ability for Reimer to buy the property with the ability to open a school.

In fact, Mattoon and Hutchins claim they, not the district, actually own the property. A Shawano County judge will determine who has the claim to the deed.

"Even though the real estate issues are technical, the outcome is going to be significant for K-12 education in the area," said CJ Szafir, the executive vice president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

That group is now trying to join the lawsuit and fight Antigo Schools, offering its legal services for free.

Szafir said real estate pushback by public schools is becoming common.

"This is especially an issue here in Milwaukee," Szafir said. "They refuse to sell the building because they view it as competition."

In Mattoon, Kickhaver just wants a school option for his kids right down the street. He'd love for it to be a Christian school.

If the lawsuit goes his way, he just might get it.

"In five or ten years, I hope to see kids on that playground. That's the story going perfectly," Kickhaver said. "When you put this in the hands of people that can think outside the box a little bit and have a passion to educate children and to do what's right, you can make this work. This will work."

A Shawano County court hearing on July 26 will determine whether the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and Shepherd's Watch can join the court case.

Szafir said he expected a decision late this year or early next year on who holds the deed to the school property.

Unified School District of Antigo Superintendent Dr. Julie Sprague declined to speak on this story because the issue is in court.

Text Size: + Increase | Decrease -
| Print Story | Email Story
Sponsored in part by HodagSports.com


MERRILL - Maple sap runs through Anthony Renken's veins like it does through tree taps during sugaring season.

+ Read More

Play Video

MERRILL - A church in Merrill went without an associate Pastor for almost three years. Finally, the void has been filled.

Adam Rodriguez wanted to be a pastor for a while.

"I realized quite quickly that there was a shortage of pastors because when you don't have a pastor, you need to rely on the pastors in the area," said Trinity Lutheran Church Associate Pastor Adam Rodriguez.

Now, he's at the next stop in his lifelong journey at Trinity Lutheran Church in Merrill.

"Being placed in the pastor office was humbling," said Rodriguez.

+ Read More

Play Video

TOMAHAWK - Flying a plane over Tomahawk isn't a typical summer activity for high school students, but Haley Marvin and Haile Larch aren't your typical teenagers. 

"It feels kind of good to have something different, something new that not many people are doing," said Larch.

+ Read More

Play Video

MERRILL - The Lincoln County fair brings about 35,000 people to the Merrill Festival Grounds.

Organizers say one of the main reasons those people come is to interact with animals.

Families gathered in the barn for a chance to see cows, pigs, horses, and other farm animals up close.

People learned about all the work it takes to keep these animals healthy.

Local farmers said they were happy to share their way of life with others.

"When people come into the barn they're like 'hey look at all these cute animals.' They don't get to see them as much as we do. We get to see them every day on the farm," said Brenna Allen, a farmer who showed her cow.

+ Read More

Play Video

TOMAHAWK - During most days out of the year, one can find Bob Cota managing a motel in Harshaw, but at least once a year, his priorities shift to grilling some nice, juicy ribs.

+ Read More

MADISON - Gov. Tony Evers today signed Executive Order #38 to address the issue of clean energy in Wisconsin. The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Public Service Commission Chairperson Becky Cameron Valcq and Department of Natural Resources Secretary-designee Preston Cole.The governor was joined by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Public Service Commission Chairperson Becky Cameron Valcq and Department of Natural Resources Secretary-designee Preston Cole.

Executive Order #38 orders the Department of Administration to create the Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy and in partnership with other state agencies and state utilities, achieve a goal of ensuring all electricity consumed within the state of Wisconsin is 100% carbon-free by 2050.

The Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy will be charged to promote the development and use of clean and renewable energy across the state, advance innovative sustainability solutions that improve the state's economy and environment, and diversify the resources used to meet the state's energy needs.

"Today, our administration is taking a step that promises an opportunity to create cleaner and safer jobs, to stimulate the economy, to once again have an abundant and prosperous agriculture industry, and the opportunity to restore and enjoy the beautiful natural resources our state has to offer," said Lt. Gov. Barnes. 

+ Read More

MADISON - Gov. Tony Evers this week met local officials and public works staff in Wausau and Green Bay to highlight the important role that a quality transportation system plays in public safety, Wisconsin's economy and quality of life.

"The recently approved state budget contains the highest level of transportaThe 2019â€"2021 state budget invests in all transportation modes including state and local roadways, coupled with the lowest level of borrowing in 20 years. Key provisions include:

An additional $320 million in State Highway Rehabilitation funding to improve existing highways and bridges across the state
A 10% increase ($66 million over the biennium) in General Transportation Aids. This funding helps offset the costs of transportation-related expenses in Wisconsin's counties, cities, villages, and towns tion investments in more than a generation," Gov. Evers said. "With support from the legislature and the collective voices of people across Wisconsin, we've finally made significant progress in the one area that truly connects us all â€" our comprehensive transportation network."

+ Read More
+ More General News