From: Gretchen Michlitsch
School District 861 administrators would like to frame the district’s options as “programs versus buildings” or “elementary teachers versus music and athletics.” These are false oppositions. Major portions of the WAPS’ budget have essentially been excluded from budget-cut discussions.
1) State appropriations will increase from $6,188 to $6,312 per student for next school year, which will increase WAPS’ revenue by hundreds of thousands of dollars. This increase in revenue was not presented to the “budget reduction task force” and does not seem to have been part of budget discussions among the School Board.
2) Over a three-year period (last year, this year, and next year), the district is repaying itself for $1.5 million that it spent but did not levy for health and safety maintenance several years ago. There seems to have been a paperwork error at that time.
3) Elementary school enrollment has been stable for the past eight years. When pre-kindergarten students are included, current elementary school capacity is about 77.5 percent; the $145 million November 2017 referendum targeted 79 percent capacity. If schools are closed, elementary public school enrollment will very likely decrease.
4) The elementary school buildings currently house six classrooms of pre-kindertarten students. These students were excluded in the graph of student enrollment that the district presented in its recent “survey.” These six pre-kindergarten classes would be cut if schools are closed.
5) The primary budget cut that the superintendent advocates is the firing of seven elementary teachers. Specifically, the superintendent’s proposal to close kindergarten through fourth grade schools would “save money” by cutting kindergarten through fourth grade teachers by 14 percent, cutting elementary reading and math specialists, and cutting kindergarten through fourth grade gifted and talented. Closing buildings will not significantly reduce costs in the operating budget except in terms of firing teachers and increasing average kindergarten through fourth grade class sizes.
6) According to the administration’s numbers, the proposed elementary school closures would lead to 125 percent capacity at W-K Elementary School with an overall 106 percent capacity for our elementary schools (grades kindergarten through four). This would certainly make it much more difficult for the students and teachers left to work under such circumstances.
The School Board needs to direct the superintendent and the administration to propose cuts that do not harm our elementary school system.
Instead of firing teachers, we need to invest in our teachers. We need to renovate our existing elementary schools, which benefit from being close to the families they serve.
School closing sessions will be on Monday, March 19, 2018, at the middle school (6 p.m. for Rollingstone, 7:30 p.m. for Madison; no childcare available). A budget reduction hearing will be on Tuesday, March 20, at the Winona Senior High School. Members of the public may speak at these sessions.
Please contact your School Board members and let them know they have your support as they hold our administrators accountable. We all owe it to the children of Winona, who represent our future.