Support our schools: Vote ‘no’ on the Nov. 7 referendum


(11/1/2017)

From: Gretchen Michlitsch

I was on the Fall 2016 Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Facilities Task Force, and I encourage you to vote “no” in the upcoming WAPS school buildings referendum.

I strongly support public education, I believe in investing in teachers, I believe in the efficacy of neighborhood schools, and I believe in fiscal responsibility. 

The current $145 million proposal would undermine the long-term health of Winona Area Public Schools. The current proposal would cut teacher positions, increase average elementary school class sizes, close two thriving neighborhood schools in structurally good buildings, and trap us with a $145 million, 25-year loan payment that would jeopardize our ability to act strategically in the future. Sixty-two million dollars of that $145 million would be in interest. 

Vote “no” on this ill-conceived referendum. We can do better than this.

Some people argue that the current proposal’s $145 million would be “better than nothing” or that it is needed to keep us from having to cut teacher positions. In fact, most of the projected decrease in annual operating costs in the proposal comes from cutting teachers and increasing average elementary class sizes even while we spend $145 million. The proposal on the ballot on November 7 is worse than the current circumstances and would impede future development.

Taking out this monstrous loan for our school district in order to close good schools and export Winona’s downtown students would put us more fully at the mercy of bus companies in future bussing contracts. Closing neighborhood schools in densely populated areas would mean more of our students would spend their time sitting on busses instead of sleeping or moving or learning. Consolidating schools would mean having to invest more in parking lots. Do we really want to pay $62 million in interest for such projects? 

The current plan is largely orchestrated by the Twin Cities–based architecture and marketing firm that would gain close to $5 million of our money off the top for preliminary work. That company takes on almost no risk, leaving the risk to the students, teachers, and taxpayers of our district. We need architects with experience in renovation. Wold has very little experience in renovating historic schools and very little incentive to do anything but support a big project with a major payout for the company. District 861 can certainly do better than this.

What we need instead is a capital referendum that enables us to invest our money in neighborhood school renovation, in our teachers, and in our students. Yes we should renovate Madison, Jefferson and W-K. Build a new locker room at the high school. Build new gyms. But do these with capital referendums, not via bonds that require an additional $62 million in interest. 

We can do better. We don’t need bigger or more parking lots or more expensive bussing contracts; we do need renovated playgrounds and money to pay teachers well and safe routes for children to walk and bike to school. Keep Madison and Jefferson open and keep their neighborhoods alive. Until there is a better plan, please vote “no” to support our students and to save our public schools. 

Polling places are limited. One place to find out where to vote is at http://pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.

Vote “no” on Tuesday, November 7.

 

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