by EMILY BUSS
and SARAH SQUIRES
A proposal for a new $22 million elementary school could close the doors of Winona’s historic elementary buildings. On January 24, Superintendent Scott Hannon outlined a proposal to spend nearly $28 million on future changes that he said would save money over time.
At that meeting, the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) Board was introduced to 21 proposed cuts for the next school year, to trim $500,000 from the district budget. While increased class sizes and reductions in instructional supplies, clerical, and textbook allocations top the list, the six considerations for future years present the biggest district changes.
“Keep in mind these are not recommendations, they are just something to chew on if you want savings,” Superintendent Scott Hannon told board members. The future considerations were a result of community input, Hannon said, and that the board “would be remiss in our jobs if we didn’t look at these options.”
At the top of the list is the proposal to build a new elementary school. With a price tag of nearly $22 million, the new building would encompass all elementary school students, district-wide, into one building.
According to administrators, the annual savings of a having only one elementary school is estimated to be around $855,000, and would eliminate 10 full-time equivalent positions.
“Are you willing to go that far?” Hannon asked board members. “I don’t know if we are. But, we felt that we had to put it out there. This [proposal] is nothing new, you’ve heard it before in the Warner report. It would solve a lot of issues.”
Four-day school week
Next on the list of future considerations is redefining the school week from five days to only four. A nearly $430,000 savings is projected by administrators, mostly through anticipated transportation cost savings. However, Hannon said he recognized that parents may have an issue with students being out of school during the work week.
“This is a hard change, and it is a change that is new to us,” Hannon said. “This savings could happen if we looked seriously at a four-day school week.”
WAPS board chair Mohamed Elhindi asked Hannon if the shortened school week would have anything to do with building a new elementary school, and Hannon said it does not.
Schools across the country are switching to four-day school weeks in an effort to combat financial restraints, and within the last five years, several Minnesota schools have also made the transition. While the jury is still out as to whether the switch works in Minnesota schools, Hannon said he was optimistic.
“My brother worked for a district in Colorado for a number of years and when they went to a four-day-a-week schedule, they found that student achievement went up a little because students had more time to study,” he said. “We’re not recommending this, but rather just throwing it out there as something to think about down the road.”
An estimated $400,000 annually in savings could potentially come from a $4 million expense which would allow the district to cut ties with the current busing contractor and provide its own transportation. The money would provide for vehicles, maintenance, and storage fees, and would give the district more flexibility, board member Jeanne Nelson said.
“We would have the flexibility to extend the school day, and could adjust the bus schedules any way, shape or form that we would want,” Hannon confirmed.
Grade-level elementary schools
Also on the list of future changes was a proposal that would divide elementary students between buildings based on grade level. Hannon told the board the idea could save $172,500 annually with the reduction of 4.5 full-time teachers.
During an interview with the Winona Post in January, Hannon said the grade level elementary building idea would be presented to the board as part of the recommended budget cut initiatives for the next school year. During the board meeting, however, Hannon denied he had confirmed the recommendation with the Winona Post.
During that interview, Hannon told the Post that the administrative committee formed to recommend the cuts was working on the grade-level building proposal. He said the grade-level building proposal alone would not likely save the $500,000 that must be cut for the 2013-2014 school year, and thus the committee was studying a list of additional smaller cuts to reach the $500,000 mark. The grade-level building proposal, he said during the interview, would likely be the largest cut that would be proposed to the board for the upcoming school year. Hannon, however, opted to add the idea to a list of potential future budget cut recommendations.
Finally, the board briefly discussed outsourcing maintenance services for an estimated annual savings of $150,000, and restructuring administration for an annual savings of $96,000.
Recruit more students
“We now have to focus on retention, recruitment and revenue,” Hannon said. “We have to do something different than what we’ve been doing. We can’t keep nibbling away, ten thousand here, seven thousand there. We can’t keep doing that and not enhance revenue or bring students in.”
Hannon said any parent with questions regarding either the proposed budget cuts or any future considerations should contact him or the district office so that answers can be provided.
“We have been processing a lot of input from a variety of people so that when we bring this discussion back, we will have good answers prior to the next meeting,” he said. “We need to remember we are here to raise student achievement. We are taking steps backward instead of taking steps forward to better our students. We need to do business a little differently.”
The next WAPS board meeting will be Thursday at 6 p.m. in Council Chambers of City Hall.
Proposed 2013-2014 budget cuts
The budget cuts recommended by administrators for the 2013-2014 school year include:
• Increase class size targets by two -$110,000
• Reduction in amount allocated to textbooks -$50,000
• Reduction in clerical positions at middle school and high school -$40,000 combined
• Reduction in instructional supplies for all departments -$28,000
• Restructure elementary EBD programs and day treatment services -$38,000
• .6 reduction of Middle School electives (FACS)* -$33,000
• Chargeback HR and IS services to school nutrition and community services -$25,000
• Four-day work week for eight weeks in the summer -$26,312
• Restructure Middle School in-school suspension -$21,153
• .2 reduction of administrator* -$20,000
• Restructure high school and middle school safety specialist schedules -$16,000
• Reduce school nutrition, maintenance position by .3 FTE* - $15,000
• Reduce special education lead teacher position at the middle school by .4 FTE* -$15,000
• Move Greenhouse Program to a different location -$10,000
• Reduce elementary consumable instructional supplies -$10,000
• Replace Lotus Notes and MS Office with Google (G-Mail and apps) -$10,000
• Change property insurance parameters -$10,000
• Close middle school pool early -$7,000
• Reduce copy usage -$6,000
*A full-time employee has a status of 1.0, while lower decibel numbers represent a fraction of full-time status