A Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) administrative committee has been working for months on a recommendation as to where $500,000 in budget cuts should be made for the 2013-2014 school year. On Friday, superintendent Scott Hannon confirmed that one of the recommendations would be to create grade-level buildings, with elementary students assigned to a school based on grade levels.
The exact configuration of the potential grade-level buildings hasn't been determined, and Hannon said he did not yet know how much money such a change might save the district. Putting all students in a grade in a shared location would mean that class sizes could be balanced across the entire grade, rather than having extremely small class sizes because students in the same grade are split between buildings. The change would save the district money because fewer teachers would be needed at the elementary level.
"Our goal is $500,000, and I don't think [savings with grade-level elementary buildings] would be anywhere near that," said Hannon, adding that from the list of recommended cuts, it would likely save the most money. He said the rest of the cuts explored by the committee were smaller budget reduction items or funding shifts. "If the board doesn't want to [create grade-level buildings], we'll just look at other things. In [the minds of administrators], this is the one that isn't really reducing the quality of education that we have now."
Perhaps, said Hannon, placing students in schools based on grade levels could be a positive thing.
While Hannon admitted that there could be objections from parents who wish to have their children attend the same elementary school year after year, he said there were some benefits to the proposal. Having teachers who teach the same grade all in one location would make it easier for them to collaborate on student achievement, he explained, adding he had witnessed operational improvements when fifth and sixth graders were moved to middle school locations in the past.
Several members of the board have, in the past, requested that the committee working on the budget reduction proposals present recommended cuts that exceed the $500,000 mark so that the board has options for where the cuts will be made. Hannon said Friday that there will be options, but that he didn't want to bring forward much in the way of cuts beyond the $500,000 mark. Even if the board does not decide to cut from the additional options, said Hannon, putting them on the table would hurt employee moral in the district. Someone might assume she will lose her job, he said, if many other options are put on the table. He said he didn't want to create a "panic," or encourage "lobbying," adding, "We want to maintain a good environment to work in." The committee will bring forward several ideas for budget reductions beyond the $500,000 needed for the next school year, but he said he will make it clear those additional suggestions are only a possibility on the horizon. The district must cut $750,000 for 2014-2015 and $450,000 for 2015-2016, according to the most recent projections.
Things may change, said Hannon. The state Legislature could increase school funding, or more students might enroll at WAPS in the coming years. Additionally, in recent months district leaders have discussed the potential for a property tax levy referendum in 2016.
The board expects to receive the budget reduction proposal January 24. A public forum to allow residents to comment on the proposal is scheduled for January 31.