School sale negotiations continue
by NATHANIEL NELSON
At the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board meeting on Thursday, the board voted unanimously to deny the appeal of a grievance from the Winona Education Association (WEA). If the WEA chooses, it can now pursue arbitration, which would be the first grievance to do so in almost a decade. The board also voted to continue accepting offers and negotiating with potential purchases on the sale of Central and Madison schools. The board is expected to continue meeting privately to discuss purchase offers at its next meeting.
Earlier this year, WAPS human resources staff denied three members of WEA extended leaves of absence, who later resigned from their teaching positions. The three teachers had all applied for leave after the contractual deadline of April 1 — one of which was filed on May 28, and the other two on July 9. The WEA filed the grievance on July 13, asking that the resignations be rescinded and an extended leave of absence be allowed in all three cases. The grievance progressed to level three after WAPS Superintendent Rich Dahman denied their appeal, which sent it to the full School Board for review.
All three teachers took on teaching positions in other districts.
The Board Operations Committee, which consists of board members Ben Baratto, Steve Schild and Jay Kohner, met on Wednesday to discuss their recommendation to the board. The group agreed that while the district has in the past granted some leaves of absence after the posted deadline, there was no clear pattern in how they are handled.
“Based on what [human resources director Emily Solheid] has giving us, we have gone either way based on the individual. It’s not just one way, either yes or no, in keeping with past practice,” Schild stated.
Kohner agreed, and added that with new administrators, the district can also revisit past practice and approach it in a more formulaic way. “I’d like to see past practice challenged a little bit,” Kohner said. “I think ultimately, we will get to that place where the contract will be followed.”
The committee gave its recommendation to the board that the appeal be denied on the grounds of missing the deadlines. The board voted unanimously to deny the appeal.
The next step for WEA, if it so chooses, would be to file for arbitration and bring in a state arbitrator to decide the issue. The last time the WEA took a grievance to arbitration was in 2009.
Offers on Central and Madison continue
The WAPS Board voted unanimously to continue accepting offers and negotiating with current bidders on Thursday after being briefed during a closed session on all current offers. According to Dahman, the district has received five offers for Central and five offers for Madison, with four individuals placing offers on both buildings. The bids are being kept private during the negotiation process as “good negotiation practice,” Dahman explained. Andrew Brenner announced his bid for Central publicly after the previous board meeting, stating that he is offering $170,000 for Central and $50,000 for Madison. He also stated that he would donate the Central school building to the city of Winona for use as the new location for the city’s senior center. The city has also placed an offer on Central, but the details of that offer have not been made public.
Dahman also announced on Thursday that the sale of Rollingstone school to MC Properties for $80,000 has been closed. The money from the sales of all three schools will only be able to be used for capital projects.
City leaders have stated that the Madison and Central school sites won’t be rezoned until a reuse study has been completed by the city’s planning department at the end of the year. WAPS officials have admitted that without secured rezoning for redevelopment, offers for the sites may not be as high as they might be from developers who were more confident that the properties would be zoned for development. They have also stated that the board could opt to simply sell the school sites now and let developers work with the city on the zoning and redevelopment issue, rather than the district waiting for the reuse studies to be completed.
In May, the WAPS Board voted to close Madison and Rollingstone schools as part of $1.7 million in budget reductions. Madison, Rollingstone, and Central, which had been closed since 2011, were then put up for sale in a sealed-bid process.On July 19, the board voted to award the sale of the shuttered elementary schools to the highest bidders, but after it was revealed that the winning bids by Building Value Partners, LLC, for Madison and Central of $131,000 and $171,000, respectively, were flawed, the board voted to reject all bids and restart the sale process. The new offers come through Ritch Jacobson, a realtor hired by the district to advertise the sale of the schools to hopefully receive more — and higher — offers for the properties.
The board will revisit offers at its next board meeting on Tuesday, October 16.