We are once again having the “facilities” discussion over at Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS). No matter that there is no data to support the benefit of new buildings to school achievement, building is what every superintendent and school board brings to the public.
Building makes sense in a baby boom situation. You have to put students somewhere. In the present climate, however, which finds us with, apparently, more space than the student population needs, it makes little sense.
WAPS will also very soon be asking the public for more money with a levy override referendum.
Still, we are having the facilities discussion. I have a sneaking suspicion that superintendents and school boards, like all of us, want to accomplish something during their tenure at their jobs. Since real achievement by all students has eluded public education in the U.S., even after decades of jiggering and rejiggering curriculum and introducing new technology, buildings present a goal that can actually be accomplished and put on a resumé. And who doesn’t want a new building to work in?
The fundamental problem with school districts building new schools is that the process rarely takes into account what is best for the wider community. Yes, the community — represented by the Chamber of Commerce, medical community, and others — is enlisted to help get the vote out for a new school. The celebratory champaign bottles are barely emptied, however, before the building presents one more problem to the community and school district.
The present middle school, built after many years and hard work by those in favor of building, never did function as was promised to the community. In order to keep it full, it has been necessary to empty the neighborhood elementary schools. Luckily, the old buildings were in large part reused, yet the old auditorium building languishes and will probably be torn down. The Rollingstone Community School, built with the help of special legislation championed by Rep. Gene Pelowski, was not even paid for before talks of closing it surfaced.
I’d like to see more effort by school building committees to work with the counties, cities, townships, and the general public on a long-term vision of how the schools fit into the landscape of community life.
Who knows what the schools and community can accomplish if they work together — we do have examples in the charter schools at Dakota and Ridgeway.
The questions are endless. I wonder how much a developer or business might pay to have the land on which the high school sits? Why are we moving little kids out of buildings tailored to them and into a building for older students? Does all this energy put into facilities derail the real job of the public schools?
Let’s find out before we build just to build.