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Tennis, anyone? (06/24/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

The chutzpah of the Winona schools administration is without bounds. Or perhaps it isn’t utter nerve, but utter lack of organization that leads administrators to bring things to the school such as the $400,000 to $500,000 for new tennis courts at the high school. This request comes just two months after the school board had approved a capital improvements budget.

Most of us don’t actually set an annual budget, but multimillion dollar enterprises must, lest they find themselves overspending to a dangerous point. The school district actually does set a budget, but it seems apparent that administration thinks of the budget as fluid, rather than set in stone.

It is no wonder that members of the school board balked at the half-million dollar request, when they thought that they had addressed the capital budget and could go on to other pressing problems. The board can’t be faulted for not being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, but the school administration can certainly be charged with sloppy work and a blatant disregard for the time of school board members and the purses of the taxpayers.

It isn’t unusual for workers to think that their own areas of concern are of utmost importance, but administrators are charged with reining in spending, prioritizing projects, and protecting budgets from wholesale chaos.

The land at the high school is not good for tennis courts or other fixed and covered sorts of athletic installments. Right now the tennis team, which apparently involves about 44 students, uses indoor courts at the old Saint Teresa campus or outdoor courts at the Winona Middle School. It would seem to this old tennis player that such a program is a far better arrangement than a half a million dollar project on swamp land. As far as tennis for phy ed, middle schoolers can learn the basics of tennis, and continue on their own if they wish. Certainly there are myriad other curricular fitness opportunities for high schoolers, including jumping jacks, which are free.

But perhaps I missed the point. Perhaps the direction of the entire conversation about the needs of the public schools beyond what they budget and can pay for should have tipped me off. Did they actually say the word “referendum” and posit that one could be run this fall during the other elections that will take us to the polls? Yes, referendum. This fall. No matter that in a few years they will be looking for another levy referendum.

Are they saying, “Hey, dream large! Forget the budget! We’ll get it from the taxpayers, and if those misers don’t want to vote for all this stuff, we can always get it through a lease levy, which doesn’t even have to be approved by voters.”

It might do well for those administrators to bone up on the history of the last administration, which lost favor with voters when they ran a lease levy, which does not require voter approval, for a new Alternative Learning Center. For now, I hope the board sticks to its budget and demands that its administration do the same. 


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