Couple hopes to transfer property to Fall River School District

February 22, 2017

The Fall River School Board said yes. The Rio School Board said no.

Now, it will be up to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to decide whether to grant Gene and Debbie Waterworth’s request to transfer a parcel of property that they own in the town of Fountain Prairie from the Rio School District to the Fall River School District.

The Waterworths, whose home is located in the Fall River School District, are Pirates through and through. They both graduated from Fall River High School. So did their parents. So did their son.

And now their grandson Bryce, who lives on the property next door to them, is a third grader at Fall River School.

The only problem is, the parcel that Bryce and his family live on, which the Waterworths bought in 2012, is in the Rio School District, so he has to attend Fall River through open enrollment.

“Rather than continue to have to open enroll Bryce and eventually Zoey (his almost 4-year-old sister), we decided to petition the property transfer,” Gene told the Fall River Board Feb. 15.

The parcel that Bryce and Zoey — and their parents, Ryan and Shannon — live on is basically surrounded by the Fall River School District.

“It’s by one corner post that it’s attached (to Rio) basically,” Gene said. He was unsure when the district boundaries were drawn, but said they probably dated back to the 1940s or early 1950s.

Even the driveway to Bryce and Zoe’s house is in the Fall River School District.

“If Bryce were enrolled in the Rio School District, the Rio bus would actually have to drive into the Fall River District and pick him up,” Gene said.

As it is, the Fall River bus picks up Bryce, even though he’s an open enrollment student, because the driveway is within the district’s boundaries.

The family’s house is actually about a mile and a half closer to the Fall River school than it is to the Rio school, Gene said.

“Bryce and Zoey’s social, recreational and church activities center in Fall River,” Gene said. “That’s where their friends are. That’s the community and the school they and their family know. Only by a quirk in drawing lines years ago of a distance less than a half a mile, they are counted as students of the Rio School District for membership purposes.”

The Fall River School Board voted unanimously to accept the parcel in question into its district.

The Rio Board had turned down the couple’s request at a meeting two nights earlier, because the district doesn’t want to lose the taxable land, Rio district administrator Mark McGuire said.

“During the discussion of the detachment, the Rio Board mentioned they would be willing to look at the detachment if there was land that could come from the Fall River School District of equal value, so our district would not lose the taxable property,” McGuire wrote in an email.

The Waterworths said they paid the Rio School District $1,473 in taxes on the property in 2016. State law requires resident districts to pay $6,639 per pupil to districts that their students attend through open enrollment.

Fall River Superintendent Michael Garrow noted that Rio’s property tax loss would be more than offset by what it would gain by not having to pay Fall River open enrollment fees.

But McGuire pointed out that the Rio District is still able to count the students on its enrollment, which means if the land is detached, Rio would lose student count.

“Under open enrollment, the district is able to keep the difference in aid between a full-time student and the open enrollment tuition,” McGuire wrote. “For districts like Rio, which is in declining enrollment, the reduction in two students would mean a loss of revenue to the district.”

The Waterworths had tried three years earlier to get the property transferred, but were rebuffed by both boards at that time. They let the matter drop then, but Gene said this time they are going to appeal the decision to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). They have until March 14 to get their appeal filed.