Results of a survey of community members about a possible multi-million-dollar facilities referendum for Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) arrived at the School Board table on June 16, showing support for an $87 million referendum and mixed responses on tax increases to pay for it. School Board members will now consider the survey results in deciding whether to pursue a referendum. 

This spring, a facilities task force recommended a $85.5 million set of facility upgrades to the School Board. The proposal would construct additions at the elementary schools and high school, create flexible learning spaces and address millions in deferred maintenance work throughout the district. 

After receiving the task force’s recommendation, the School Board hired a survey firm to ask community members about whether they would support a referendum, and if so, what type. 

The survey results are now in. School Board member Jim Schul said they made him feel more optimistic about a potential referendum succeeding.

When told about the tax impact of an $87 million referendum, then asked if they would vote “yes”’ on a referendum taking place now, respondents expressed support, with 38 percent saying they would support it and 18 percent saying they would strongly support it. 

Slightly more than half of respondents, 53 percent, said $87 million to complete the improvements sounded “like a fair price.” 

Respondents also expressed support for remodeling the elementary schools, with 25 percent saying they supported it and 29 percent saying they strongly supported it. Meanwhile, 8 percent said they would want to build a new elementary school or strongly agreed with doing so. 

Respondents expressed more mixed opinions about tax increases. Just under half — 47 percent — said they would vote for a tax increase in some cases but not others, while 26 percent said they would vote “against almost any tax increases for the schools” and 25 percent said they would vote for a tax increase for schools. 

The majority of respondents did not support a tax increase high enough — on a $200,000 home — to fund the referendum. When asked more specifically how much more per month they would be willing to pay in property taxes for school facilities upgrades in a referendum, 29 percent said nothing, 25 percent said $6, 18 percent said $12 and 11 percent said $18. Just 2 percent said they would pay $24 and 1 percent said they would pay $30. According to the survey, for those owning a $200,000 home, property taxes would increase about $17 a month or $203 a year for 20 years with an $87 million referendum. 

Generally, respondents had positive impressions of the district’s facilities, with 56 percent saying they rated the elementary schools as “good,” 68 percent rating the middle school as “good,” 61 percent rating the high school as “good” and 64 percent rating the Winona Area Learning Center (ALC) as “good.” 

With the district’s elementary schools in particular, respondents expressed good impressions, with 59 percent saying the schools meet students’ needs now. 

On the topic of the importance of classroom design, respondents also responded positively, in general, with 84 percent agreeing it was “somewhat important” or “very important.” 

Slightly more than half of respondents — 55 percent— also said they felt WAPS’ buildings offer adequate flexible spaces for learning. 

In response to questions about tax increases to fund specific projects in the task force recommendation, respondents generally answered positively, with 76 strongly or somewhat supporting deferred maintenance work, 74 percent strongly or somewhat supporting remodeling elementary and high school classrooms and 55 percent strongly or somewhat supporting building a new gym at the high school. 

The School Board will next meet on July 7 at 6 p.m. at Winona Senior High School.