Wanna Buy a School Building?

A school board won’t sell an empty building to its Catholic competitor

Marinette, Wisconsin, is a small town and a county seat north of Green Bay. As reported by National Review (July 5; a link to the story is below), there’s a K-12 Catholic school in town that’s been around more than a century. Also, the local school board, with declining enrollments, has apparently chosen to “downsize” its properties and sell off two school buildings. The Catholic school is interested in the sale because its current enrollment does not fit in one building, so it has to run two campuses somewhat geographically separated. Acquiring the vacant school building would solve their problem, co-locating all Catholic grades within proximity of each other and the local parish.

The school board won’t sell, even though they’ve been offered their full asking price of $300,000. Their argument? The Catholic school might poach even more students from the public system, causing the latter to lose more state aid. So, they don’t want to sell to the “competition.”

There are many issues here. In classic fiscal conservative style, National Review points out that the public school board is failing its fiduciary responsibility. A shuttered schoolhouse still has to be maintained, which incurs costs. If it’s not being used, it’s draining resources better put elsewhere — at schools that have students. True to classic small-government conservatism, it notes that the government’s school system is not analogous to a business, which is in competition with similar service providers, therefore it should not act that way toward potential buyers.

I’d push the issue further. There’s an inherent contradiction in the school board’s view. If it wants to act like a quasi-business, excluding other competitors, then it can’t demand a funding monopoly. If it uses its assets like a business to leverage its position and keep out competitors, then it has to be open to competition, which brings us back to the school choice issue. But you can’t have it both ways: excluding competitors but insisting you’re a government-protected monopoly.

The case comes back to the argument I continually make about the need to reframe the narrative about education money. Who are government educational dollars for? Are they for schools or students? The answer should be obvious: schools don’t need to be educated, children do. You don’t teach schools, you teach kids. And, in a diverse, pluralistic, multireligious, and tolerant America which recognizes parental choice in the selection of educational modes (as long as they meet common minimum compulsory education requirements), it is a non-sequitur to say the dollars necessary to effectuate that choice are solely the public school’s claim. To argue otherwise is to claim that (a) ultimately, education dollars are for schools, not kids and (b) there can be legitimate discrimination against children and their parents who select legal and legally compliant education by other forms of legal and legally compliant education (public schools).

I see two possible recourses. The Catholic school in Wisconsin has decided to sue the school board, and I wish them success. The same government that would prosecute you if you wouldn’t sell your house to a Catholic buyer wants to pretend there’s a difference if the buyer is a Catholic school. The school board can try to defend its discrimination in court, spending more educational dollars that should go to students, or it can use its July 16 meeting to abandon this show. That’s choice one. Choice two would be for a minority female buyer to stand up and plop down the school board’s asking price — the school board likely slobbering over the gained woke creds — and then have her turn around and sell it to the Catholics for $1.

Anti-Catholic discrimination is the bigotry that never goes out of style.


[A link to the National Review article is here.]


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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