by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board will discuss the sales of Madison, Central, and Rollingstone schools on Thursday for the first meeting of the 2018-19 school year, but the state of those sales is still something of a question mark. Superintendent Rich Dahman declined to answer questions about the sales, which have hit added roadblocks after the city of Winona declared its intent to perform a reuse study on Central and Madison schools and a two-month lapse in updates on the Rollingstone sale. All three schools are on the docket for Thursday’s meeting, but it is unclear whether the board will hold off on its latest attempt to sell Madison and Central until the city has completed their reuse studies.
The board will also be briefed on district attendance numbers, as well as act on the board vacancy left by former member Karen Coleman.
At the last board meeting, members rejected the bids for Madison and Central schools from Building Value Partners, LLC, in response to the revelation that the bids were flawed. The board then voted to move forward with a new sale process, hiring a realtor and searching out potential buyers before looking at offers on September 20. According to Dahman, the district has signed a listing agreement with Ritch Jacobson Realty of Winona and has begun advertising for potential buyers.
“Advertising will take place through the realtor and also through contact with those who have already expressed interest in the properties,” Dahman said. “We will bring offers from anyone interested in the properties to the School Board for their consideration.”
However, last week, Winona city officials said that before any redevelopment proposals or rezoning needed for development on those lots would be approved, they would like to perform a reuse study on the properties to explore options, which would last until mid-December. They also voiced interest in potentially using the Central building for the relocation of the Friendship Center. Dahman declined to say whether either of these updates would change the sale process or whether the board would wait for the study to be completed, instead stating that he will still bring offers to the table at the end of the month.
“The School Board will look at the offers that come in and determine which best meet the needs of the School District,” Dahman said.
It is unclear whether offers made before the city approves a path to rezone the properties to allow for multi-family housing would come in lower than they might if potential buyers were certain the city is on board with their plans for redevelopment.
The board awarded the Rollingstone school building to Rollingstone MC Properties for $80,000 at its July 19 meeting, but since then, there have not been any substantial updates to the board. The Rollingstone sale is the only sale that was not later rescinded due to legal challenges, but no other information has been shared since the initial award. Dahman declined to say what state the sale was in, or whether the buyer was still seeking financing for the property, but said that more information would be shared with the board on Thursday.
Administrators will also bring forward attendance numbers to the board on Thursday for the new school year, but are waiting until the day of the meeting to release the latest numbers. While exact numbers will not be known until the meeting, 37 Rollingstone students have already been confirmed to have transferred out of the district according to a survey conducted by the Post.The Post has not yet investigated whether the closure of Madison Elementary has also cost the district in terms of student, or whether shuttering the magnet STEM program at Jefferson and offering STEM district-wide has resulted in enrollment changes. Sarah Slaby, WAPS director of finance, estimated in the 2018 preliminary budget a projected loss of 6.59 students this school year, offset by a projected increase of about 10 students in kindergarten.
The average 2018 per-pupil-unit funding is $9,174 per student per year, so depending on what the final attendance numbers reveal, the district may be forced to make budget cuts mid-year to account for under budgeting or further spend down its dwindling reserves.