by Winona Post Editor-in-chief Sarah Squires
The old adage suggests those on the receiving end of a gift ought to steer clear of the horse’s mouth, but the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board, it seems, no matter who is at the table, has never been one for following age-old advice. Instead, on Thursday night, the majority of its members were prying open jaws and cranking on flashlights in an attempt to spot a cavity, an old filling — any excuse, really — in the generous gift of more than $21,000 raised by district families in an attempt to retain the district’s beloved fourth-grade orchestra program. A district that is virtually out of money and one that prides itself on its music and arts offerings as what sets it apart from other schools, instead, looked that $21,000 gift horse in the mouth and said, “Ehhhh, no thanks.”
The reasons? It wasn’t enough, they said, never mind the figure was more than what parents were told was needed to reinstate it. (The $40,000 figure can’t be right, either, if the fundraising was only shy by .1 of a full-time equivalent employee, but no one seemed interested in fleshing out the real numbers.) Others said accepting the money would put all their budgetary decisions in question, though no other community group has earnestly raised money to cover the costs of other cuts. You can read about their other, general gripes on our front page, but essentially, the arguments didn’t add up when you know the district’s budget is actually $190,000 further in the black than the budget reductions intended, so adding back a fraction of an employee to support this program is not out of the question.
But no matter. Apparently, the entire board is supportive of some kind of orchestra “experience” for the kids, but scoffed at the money offered by the community. I guess we will see what that amounts to. However, once again, a group of well-intentioned, committed families trying to help WAPS succeed has been cut down at the knees and disregarded. And if you follow the current troubles faced by this district, you’ll know that it’s exactly this kind of treatment that has driven families from our ranks, with kids being sent to bordering districts, charters and private schools after their parents feel their interests have been ignored, even when they could have been met and embraced. It won’t take very many kids sent to other schools to negate any financial benefits cutting orchestra might have provided, and you’d think this would be a lesson fresh on the minds of WAPS leaders.
I knew music and art were supported with passion among WAPS families, but even I was blown away by the public outcry when they faced the chopping block during recent rounds of budget cuts. The desire of this community to support the arts is no secret. But the thought that this support seems to fall on deaf ears at WAPS is baffling, even to those of us who have seen leaders fail at rebuilding and maintaining bonds with the community, year after year.
While the district has not spent time truly crunching the numbers for orchestra, one thing is clear. Simply asking administrators to take an extra Friday off in the summer would more than provide for the entire program, which begs the question of where, exactly, WAPS’ priorities truly might be found.
Perhaps on Thursday, the board should have just said, “Thank you.”