ALC decision is the right one


(1/3/2007)

From: Fred Petersen

District 861 School Board

The school board recently voted unanimously to have a new building built on the Jefferson Elementary School property to house the Winona Area Learning Center. I am well aware that some people do not approve of this action.

Some seem to think that the needs of ALC students (or for that matter, any students) should be met only to the extent that taxpayers are willing to pay at the moment, and that doing nothing is preferable to even the cheapest option.

While I very much want to listen to the perspectives of all interested parties, I do not believe I was elected just to do the voters' bidding. I will not base my decisions based on opinion polls or respond only to those who cry the loudest. My job is to listen to all sides and suggestions, gather data, and then apply my best judgment, based on all the facts available, to determine what is for the greatest good of all concerned in the long- term.

My current position is based on nine years experience on the board dealing with the problem of inadequate facilities for the ALC, as well as the related issue of elementary building consolidation. I have found myself on both sides of the issue of school closings. I have listened to input from three different superintendents, three different fiscal directors, several committees, and numerous constituents, teachers, and students, and I have participated in closing three buildings. (I voted against the sale of the Lincoln building.)

I have learned that any savings resulting from consolidation are quickly negated by loss of revenue due to loss of enrollment to parochial and charter schools. The idea that our buildings are grossly underused and that there would be big savings in consolidation has become another urban myth.

This plan for a new ALC is the culmination of a long and exhaustive search, in which over 30 potential plans and sites have been considered, studied, and rejected for various reasons. Some potential buildings are simply not available. Others, though they may contain space, would not be suitable as a school without extensive and expensive remodeling. Others could not be made useable regardless. Even an existing elementary school building would require remodeling to make it suitable for high school age students.

It is too bad that the mechanism for funding this project came to us so late in the game. It would have been preferable to publicize it more and give everyone more time to be involved in the decision. Unfortunately, we have plain run out of time. As so often happens, we are forced to choose, not between good and bad, but between bad and worse. If we are to get done all that needs to be done, we have to be moving now and I see no other viable options.

I cannot in good conscience condemn these kids to another year in an overcrowded bar. We have been doing that for nearly ten years now. They deserve better and we have an obligation to provide them with better. We can pay now, or we can pay a lot more later. We have also run out of time to find suitable space for our Community Education offices, which must be moved out of the Lincoln building. Right now almost any action is better than no action.

All of this has led me to conclude that at this time the best long-term course of action that we have available, both economically for the taxpayers and educationally for the students, is to build this building on the Jefferson school property, and not close more elementary buildings.

Given the space involved on that property, and other safeguards, the impact on Jefferson Elementary students will be minimal. It is not a perfect plan, but it really is not all that bad, and actually contains some pretty significant advantages.

We enjoy the lives we do today because people in the past have been willing to make sacrifices, some of them great. If repaying that debt and providing for the future of our children means paying a few dollars more in taxes now, then I am not just willing, but compelled to do so.

Space does not allow me to detail all that went into this decision, but as I have said many times before, if you wish to comment on, question, or discuss any school issue, please contact me. I do appreciate other opinions even though I may not always be able to agree with them, and if anyone can show me factual basis for changing my position, I can do that too.

 

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