by LAURA HAYES
Last week, the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board debated the viability of keeping Rollingstone Community School open. The board recently decided to ask voters in November for $145 million to fund a facility plan that would close Madison and Jefferson and keep Washington-Kosciusko, Goodview, and Rollingstone open.
Rollingstone Community School is a small outlying school built in 1995 with historically low enrollment numbers. Past School Boards have suggested redistricting WAPS in order to boost enrollment. Under the plan, Rollingstone would remain open with minimal repairs. WAPS Superintendent Richard Dahman said while Rollingstone is included in the facility plan, under the proposed renovations, W-K and Goodview would be able to hold the district’s entire elementary student population. “It’s difficult to put a specific enrollment number on the viability of Rollingstone because those operating costs change from year to year,” Dahman said.
However, administrators proposed making Rollingstone a “choice” small school open to all elementary parents and establish a STEM program at the school. However, adding STEM programming at Rollingstone would do little to distinguish the school, as the facility plan includes transforming all WAPS elementary buildings into STEM schools to afford displaced Jefferson STEM students continued STEM programming. “I wish that we would think of the viability of the entire district instead of narrowing it down to one individual school,” board member Steve Schild said. The district, he argued, needed to examine what it wanted versus what was actually feasible. he asked where the district would find the funding. “Keeping Rollingstone open or keeping any individual school open will come at a cost to other kids,” Schild said.
According to a 2016 capacity study completed by Wold Architects and Engineers — the firm that WAPS hired to aid in the facility planning process — Rollingstone was at 59 percent capacity, housing 69 students as of September 30, 2016, compared to the potential capacity of 117 students. In comparison, Goodview was at 74 percent capacity, Jefferson was at 80 percent capacity, Madison was at 80 percent capacity, and W-K was at 96 percent capacity.
“Do we know how many kids it would take to make that school financially viable?” Schild asked. How much would it cost to transport students to Rollingstone? he continued. “How long do we give it? I just wonder if we can afford it,” Schild said.
“It’s extremely difficult to anticipate what those [transportation] costs are going to be because we don’t have any idea how many students [we’ll have] and where those students live,” Dahman said.
In April, WAPS Director of Finance Sarah Slaby reported Rollingstone’s 2017 expenses to be $699,411.33 and the school brought in $471,622.26 in revenue from state aid and levies. “The expenses of running the school exceeded the revenue. I’m just wondering if it’s going to be viable and how long we’re going to give it,” Schild said.
“With the current student enrollment there, it would be difficult to argue that it is viable. I think everyone would agree that there is a need to increase that enrollment,” Dahman said.
Administrators proposed making Rollingstone a choice school for families that want to send their child to a small school. “We have heard from a number of families in our district that prefer that small-school atmosphere,” Dahman said.
Board member Allison Quam said community members who advocate for small schools want the school to be located in their neighborhoods. “They don’t want their children to be sitting on the bus for 45 minutes to and from school. Yes, it might be a small school but it has that other piece that kids will have to ride the bus for a longer period of time,” Quam said. Families want to be able to bike and walk to school, she added.
In mid-June, WAPS administrators presented a transition plan for students, assuming the $145 million referendum is successful. Administrators suggested establishing a STEM program at all of the elementary schools (currently, only Jefferson has an official STEM program), moving Madison’s Spanish Language Immersion Program to W-K, and starting a gifted and talented program at Goodview. In the past, some Rollingstone residents advocated establishing a choice program at Rollingstone to boost enrollment. “When we looked at the district as a system, if we were to establish a choice program [at Rollingstone] and that building were to close, where would that choice program go and what would it do to the make-up of the other schools in town?” WAPS Director of Learning and Teaching Kelly Halvorsen asked last week.
She estimated that there are 21 students who live in Rollingstone but attend Jefferson for the STEM program. “If you establish a STEM [program] right there in Rollingstone, that will address one of those issues as well,” board member Jeanne Nelson said.
Technically, the School Board did not vote to approve the transition plan to establish these choice programs. Halvorsen told the board that elementary staff members would attend STEM professional development in the future regardless of the outcome of the referendum. “Even if [the referendum] doesn’t pass, we should be prepared to go districtwide [with] STEM,” Quam said.