by LAURA HAYES
On Thursday, the Winona Area Public School Board (WAPS) will discuss the “viability” of Rollingstone, according to the School Board agenda. The discussion comes on the heels of the board’s approval of a $145 million — including interest — facility plan coming before voters this November to close Madison and Jefferson and keep Rollingstone, Washington-Kosciusko, and Goodview open.
In an interview, WAPS Superintendent Rich Dahman explained the facility task force — a group of School Board members, district staff, students, and community members — recommended closing Rollingstone. As part of the approved facility plan, Rollingstone would remain open with minimal repairs. “We’re looking at developing specific criteria for Rollingstone School in order to stay open,” Dahman said. According to Dahman, the School Board and administrators will brainstorm ways to boost enrollment at the school.
During past meetings, Rollingstone residents have advocated to keep the school open, explaining that Rollingstone students have performed well on standardized tests and have easy access to the outdoors. When the school was on the chopping block to be closed next year as part of a series of budget cuts, the Rollingstone City Council reached out to district leaders, expressing interest in working together to come up with ideas to decrease both one-time and on-going expenses at the school including having the city do grounds maintenance such as mowing and plowing and sharing the costs of repairs. During a budget cut hearing in March, Rollingstone City Council member Rachel Larson said, “This school is actually good for everybody. It’s not just good for the community of Rollingstone. It fits a niche for those that don’t want to go to a larger elementary school.”
In the past, Rollingstone community members have advocated for establishing a choice program at the school to increase enrollment. WAPS administrators presented their transition plan for students, and, assuming the referendum to fund the project is approved by voters, a gifted and talented program would be established at Goodview and the Spanish Language Immersion Program would move to W-K. All of the schools would become STEM schools, according to the plan. “If we were to look at moving ahead with Rollingstone as a choice [school] and in the future it should close, the question would be, where would that program go?” Director of Learning and Teaching Kelly Halvorsen said during a June meeting. Since Goodview and W-K would both have a program, she said it would be difficult to move another choice program to those schools.
Some School Board members have supported keeping Rollingstone open throughout debates about what the district should do with its elementary schools, while others hesitated. Board member Tina Lehnertz, who represents the Rollingstone community, said the school is the district's newest elementary building and is an option for some students who don’t want to attend a 575-student school — or the estimated capacity of Goodview and W-K under the plan. Board member Jay Kohner frequently said he thought W-K’s site was too small for 575 students. “It’s hard to sit here and listen to an argument for a small school when it’s at the expense [of adding] 200 students to W-K,” Kohner said during a June meeting. “Including Rollingstone is at the expense of W-K.”
What does Dahman hope comes out of Thursday’s discussion at the School Board table? “It’s going to be a discussion on what we need to do as a school district to help make sure that the enrollment is growing at Rollingstone and what guidelines we want to have in place to ensure that Rollingstone Community School stays viable,” Dahman said.
The School Board meeting will take place on August 17 at 6 p.m. at city hall. The meeting is open to the public, and time is set aside during every meeting for public comment.