Asks WAPS to keep school open for year to plan
by SARAH SQUIRES
It’s no secret: Rollingstone would like to keep its school. After a split vote from the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board to close it for the next school year and sell the building, a group of Rollingstone residents approached the district, asking that plans for a sales condition that the building not be used as a schoolhouse be lifted and that the board wait for the group’s formal plan for the city to retain its school. Now, that formal plan is on the WAPS Board table, with a vote expected on Thursday night.
The Rollingstone group has asked that the district allow the city to purchase the building for use as a charter school beginning in 2019. Its proposal requests that the district consider being the charter’s “authorizer,” an entity required by the state to oversee a charter. And, the group has asked that WAPS keep Rollingstone open as a WAPS school for the coming school year while members undergo planning for the charter operation.
The plan, prepared by EdVisions in St. Paul, asserts that an independent charter in Rollingstone could be operated for $5,000 per student less than it is currently spent by WAPS, citing other charter budgets, including Ridgeway and Bluffview Montessori, which operate at considerably less money per student than what WAPS currently spends in Rollingstone. It argues that retaining an elementary in the city may help attract some of the 168 students who attend Lewiston-Altura through open enrollment, then funnel them into WAPS’ secondary schools, which would help pad enrollment and funding for the district. The Rollingstone group also conducted a survey of parents: 46 current Rollingstone students, along with their 23 siblings, currently plan to leave WAPS with the Rollingstone closure. Parents of 13 additional students were undecided, with “many mentioning it would probably not be WAPS but [were] unsure as to where.” Eleven parents of current Rollingstone students were unable to be contacted, and just 15 said they would remain with WAPS. The known 46 students and their 23 siblings generate $633,000 in funding, according to the report.
“Winona Area Catholic Schools and other non-district schools are reporting that more students are coming from the district each year,” asserted the proposal. “Perhaps if an exciting learning model is available in Rollingstone, we could assist in drawing some of these students back to the district. The charter calls for a goal of expanded enrollment by 50 percent. This is an opportunity to increase long-term revenue by attracting or bringing back students from nearby districts or private options.”
The report also indicates that some parents within Winona city limits, upset by the elementary boundary changes that came along with the closure of Rollingstone and Madison, have inquired about schooling options in Rollingstone. The district will also dissolve its magnet STEM program at Jefferson, which caused further student movement with the boundary changes, and plans to begin to implement STEM programming at all district buildings next year. The Rollingstone plan hints that a charter there would focus on STEM and environmental programming.
Randall Sullivan, co-chair of the committee planning for the Rollingstone charter, told WAPS Board members earlier this month that the school building is not zoned for multi-family or commercial use, stating the city is not planning to change that. He said collaboration between the Rollingstone group and the district could be a win-win for both. “You have to be willing to make some moves toward good will and have faith in the community that has always been good to you,” he told the board.
During that meeting, WAPS Board members had been slated to vote to call for bids on the building, with the condition that it not be used as a school in place. Superintendent Rich Dahman said he “strongly recommended” that the board move forward with the sale of the school buildings, along with the sale conditions. Board members Tina Lehnertz, Allison Quam, Jay Kohner and Ben Baratto voted to delay the sale vote until the Rollingstone plan was provided on Thursday. Board members Steve Schild, Karen Coleman and Jeanne Nelson voted against the delay.
The WAPS Board is expected to examine the proposal and vote on the sale conditions on Thursday at its meeting at 6 p.m. at Winona City Hall. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.