From: Darrell Downs
Winona Area Public Schools’ (WAPS) leadership is asking voters to support an $82.4 million facilities referendum. With interest, this referendum will cost $145 million over 25 years. This is a heavy price tag of $5.8 million per year.
Clearly, WAPS should maintain its facilities – doing so earlier would have prevented this backlog – but this referendum is only partly about past neglect.
The referendum is also asking voters to support a controversial path toward elementary school consolidation. Having already heard from the pro- and anti-closure groups and a divided Facilities Task Force, an equally divided School Board is now asking the public at-large for permission to renovate and expand newly consolidated schools W-K and Goodview.
Like a Christmas tree, this referendum offers gifts to many local constituencies. Nearly $24 million goes to W-K, including $11.2 million in new construction. Goodview gets nearly $25 million, of which $19 million is new construction. The high school and middle school deferred maintenance and renovations get a combined $25 million. Rollingstone gets $678,600 for roof repair, and another $6,565 in repairs goes to the Alternative Learning Center (ALC). On top of that, about $7 million is slated for new gymnasiums at the ALC and the high school.
The problem is that this Christmas tree bears rotten fruit.
Two of the three elementary schools in Winona are closing in this plan. Losing both Jefferson and Madison is a cost to the core of Winona that WAPS’ leaders chose not to measure. They now plan to punish the same core families to pay millions more so their children, and their children’s children, can ride buses to larger, consolidated schools.
Did anyone measure the cost of expanding bus traffic, larger busing contracts, and more idle and unhealthy time for students in transit to W-K and Goodview? Did anyone measure the loss of eliminating WAPS’ pre-school programming in Winona due to the closures? What are we losing due to teacher and staff layoffs under the consolidation – am I the only one troubled that WAPS only counts teacher and staff layoffs as “savings?” Has anyone considered the educational impact of doubling the number of students at Goodview and W-K and the impact of potentially larger class sizes? Did anyone ever look at the impact of closures on Winona property values and the unintended effects on area community development?
None of these questions will be answered unless voters insist on it by voting “no” in November. If we don’t say “no,” we can expect fewer, larger, less accessible, and less effective elementary schools for decades to come. I think voters care about that.
I also think voters, including myself, are not willing to pay more so that families and students get less. There is no part of this facilities plan to recruit families and students, no commitment to preserve historic facilities, no vision for public education serving area communities, and no plan to link facilities to academic excellence for all students. Someday soon, the new superintendent and the School Board should try to understand why enrollment is growing in the charter and private schools. I am ever hopeful that WAPS’ leaders will learn that closing schools is not a path to a better education.