A new task force will be created by Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Superintendent Scott Hannon to look at the district's facilities in the face of declining enrollment. In particular, the group will examine whether the district needs to close and combine schools, switch to grade-level schools, build a new elementary school, or none of the above. The School Board voted last Thursday to direct Hannon to come up with a committee to consider those issues.
Who will be on the committee was a question important to several board members. Board member Steve Schild said, "My fear is that the makeup of the committee is going to represent interest groups. Instead of asking people who already have opinions why don't we ask the community." Schild suggested that the district hire consultants to conduct market research on the community's sensibilities on the issue.
Hannon responded that having committee members representing interest groups was "unavoidable." Board member Brian Zeller said that the community needs organized information to comment on and that processing information is a task best completed by a committee.
Additionally, after some debate, it appears that the committee may not include any board members.
"Quite frankly, I don't want to be a referee on a committee," Hannon told the board. "If we're going to have board members on there it might be problematic. We might be better served by not having any on it."
No board members argued against that suggestion. However, in a previous meeting members said that the board should be privy to the discussions of any facilities committee.
Every member of the board vied for limited positions on a proposed facilities committee earlier this year. That nascent committee will be replaced with the new task force, according to Hannon.
Hannon told the board that he expects his new committee will find the hiring of consultants to provide a new study of the district's facilities necessary. The last facilities study was updated in 2009.
"Sooner rather than later there will have to be an update to the facilities study, and that will cost a little money, but that will help this board make good decisions," Hannon said.
He also warned that the committee may take over a year to make its final recommendations.