From: Gretchen Michlitsch
Parents and staff on the Winona Area Public Schools’ email list received a message on June 1 from the WAPS superintendent suggesting that recent warnings regarding overcapacity in the non-closed WAPS’ elementary schools were based upon inaccurate data.
However, in his email, Superintendent Dahman explained neither the numerical manipulations nor the odd and awkward classroom contortions that would be necessary to arrive at his deceptive claim. Those who value consistent and accurate data will notice that according to the capacity criteria used by the district less than a year ago in its failed 2017 referendum proposal, the remaining elementary schools are indeed projected to be over capacity in fall 2018.
Specifically, according to the capacity data that Mr. Dahman presented prior to the March 29, 2018, School Board vote to close elementary schools, two of the non-closed elementary schools will be over capacity for fall 2018: Goodview at 105.6 percent, with 247 students, and W-K at 119.2 percent, with 367 students. Jefferson would be at 96.3-percent capacity, with 386 students. Altogether, the non-closed elementary schools are projected to be at 106-percent capacity.
Notably, Wold, the Twin Cities marketing and architect firm that the district continues to rely upon, recommends that elementary schools operate at 80-percent capacity.
The above calculations are based upon the number of classrooms identified by Wold in 2016 as available classrooms. This was the only publicly available capacity data when the School Board voted on March 29 to close schools. (See “District Wide Capacity Analysis” in this School District Document: https://www.winonaschools.org/uploaded/Documents/Referendum_2017/Facilities_Task_Force/3_Capacity_Study_Book_Updated_(1).pdf.)
Similarly, the above calculations rely on the number of students per school as presented to the board for its March 29 vote. (See March 1 School Board meeting, “Enrollment & Demographics – Closing Rollingstone & Madison.”)
The reality of this overcapacity may surprise the public since the survey sent to all households in the district in early 2018 presented inaccurate capacity numbers. That survey/marketing document included a chart that erroneously categorized special needs classrooms in the elementary schools as unused space available for use as regular classrooms, making it appear that there was significant excess capacity in the elementary schools.
Since the March 29 vote, the superintendent has identified additional spaces not previously recognized as classrooms in the non-closed schools that could potentially be used as classrooms. For example, a space currently used for storage at Goodview has been identified as a potential classroom, rendering the projected enrollment at Goodview “under capacity” because, if it decided to, the district could hire an additional teacher and use that storage space as a classroom.
In the conclusion of his June 1 email, the superintendent compares projected 2018 enrollment numbers to 1995 enrollment numbers, but fails to provide context. For example, Dahman does not note that 1995’s half-day kindergarten would need half the space of our current full-day kindergarten. In addition, current funding from the state is tied to efforts to decrease class sizes (Minnesota Statute 126C.12). And I didn’t see it myself, but I understand that in 1995, elementary school libraries were in hallways in violation of fire codes, special needs classrooms were in basements, and kindergarten classes had 29 students. I hope that we do not return to such conditions.
Real students and real teachers will experience real space limitations when some of our schools re-open in September. Right now, two structurally good public elementary school buildings are for sale and bids are due on June 15. The School Board should suspend the process of selling our elementary school buildings and wait to understand reality more clearly. Winona area communities want and need financially responsible, quality education for our communities, for our families, and for our students.