by WAPS Superintendent Richard Dahman
As WAPS superintendent, my role is to communicate accurate information to the public about the upcoming referendum, so the opportunity to write this letter is greatly appreciated.
In my time in the Winona area, I’ve seen that our communities place a high value on our K-12 schools. I’ve come to realize that many people have differing opinions about the best route for the future of our facilities. I’ve also recognized, from my conversations with parents, staff, community, and business partners, a nearly universal understanding that we cannot continue to operate all our current buildings, with more space than needed and multiple school buildings in need of extensive maintenance projects.
Since the 2004-05 school year, WAPS enrollment has decreased by approximately 1,000 students. Other schools in our community have seen a similar drop in enrollment during this time; due in a large part to the decline in birth rate. Our current facility footprint is not in alignment with our enrollment, with the highest square feet per student among comparable districts.
The Facilities Task Force, after months of study of the current status of WAPS’ facilities, sent a clear message that there’s a need to combine schools by voting overwhelmingly that keeping either four or five elementary schools open would be its least preferred option. When the WAPS School Board decided to bring voters a plan to combine schools, the board agreed with the task force, that the need to consolidate elementary schools is crucial in our efforts to ensure a high quality education for all students.
The large annual operational costs of keeping all schools open, combined with the approximately $62 million in deferred maintenance needs at all of our schools (which wouldn’t include security projects or renovations to provide more flexible learning spaces), has led the board, administration, and the task force to agree that a reduction in our facilities is necessary. The WAPS School Board decided to offer the voters a plan which addresses our deferred maintenance, safety, security, and accessibility needs for all students. The plan also improves many of our learning areas to better meet student and staff needs, provides more equitable class sizes across the district, and saves an estimated $1.14 million per year in operating costs.
Choosing to maintain all five elementary schools will place a considerable financial strain on our school district, and will result in funds continuing to be spent inefficiently on facilities, rather than being used for students. In an effort to effectively set us up for the future, the WAPS School Board has decided to give the voters an option that addresses this situation. Before November 7, we are holding a number of information sessions, which will give attendees the opportunity to ask any questions they have about this proposal. I encourage everyone to continue to get informed about this issue. Feel free to visit the WAPS website, attend upcoming information sessions, or contact me for additional information.