Reality Check

Reality Check: Ad Claims Sen. Olsen Responsible For School Closing

Poy Sippi Elementary School Will Close

MADISON, Wis. - A TV ad in the 14th Senate District recall election claims that Republican Sen. Luther Olsen is responsible for a school closing in central Wisconsin.

The ad features Poy Sippi Elementary School, a small school of 75 students about 25 miles northwest of Ripon.

"I'm standing here in front of Poy Sippi Elementary School where Luther Olsen's kids went to school," parent Jay Jones says in the ad. "All of my kids have gone here and two of them still do. But next year because of budget cuts Luther Olsen voted for, my kids are not going to get the opportunity to go to this little school."

WISC-TV found this is misleading. Poy Sippi Elementary School is part of the Berlin School District, and the kindergarten through fourth-grade school has been there since 1962. The district administrator said he believes the statement is inaccurate.

"I feel it would be more accurate to say that the school was closed by the economy," said Berlin District Administrator Bob Eidahl.

Eidahl said that because of its age and size and budget cuts over a number of years, Poy Sippi had been on the chopping block at least twice in the last few years, but it has been discussed for closing since the 1980s.

"It's not a new issue, and it was something that the district was going to have to face no matter what," said Eidahl. "It just ended up that the timing was now for us."

The school district took an 8.5 percent cut in state aid this year at $900,000. It made changes to teacher benefits, but those weren't enough to fill the budget hole.

The final decision to close Poy Sippi was made, Eidahl said, because it would not only cut $500,000 from the budget but save jobs and only move students 16 miles down the road to the elementary school in Berlin.

"Republicans have found a way to find multimillion dollar tax cuts for rich corporations, but they can't find a way to keep my kids' school open," Jones says in the ad.

WISC-TV found this is also misleading because the district looked at other options to keep the school open, including raising fees or cutting programs or staff.

"It's not the choice we wanted to make, but weighing all the factors, it was the one that would affect the fewest students," said Eidahl.

Jones appears in this ad on behalf of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America Recall Committee, which are both national organizations. Jones is a teacher himself, and he said that while the school was discussed for closing for some time, it wasn't until these budget cuts that it happened.

"The district made a decision based on the budget, and the budget can be traced back directly to Gov. (Scott) Walker and his budget repair bill and all the Republicans in the state Senate who voted along those lines, and Luther is one of those guys," Jones said.

The bottom line is that the Berlin School Board was faced with cuts that were a result of the state budget, but it was the school district's choice to close the school.

Olsen is being challenged in the recall election by Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo. The election is Aug. 9.

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