by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board members will likely decide on July 21 about the scope and timing of a multi-million-dollar facilities referendum. For most of this year, the School Board has been planning an $87-million referendum to go before voters in November, to repair, upgrade, and expand all of its buildings. During its last meeting, consultants and some board members raised the possibility of delaying or downsizing the referendum.
In an interview earlier this month, School Board Chair Nancy Denzer said she hopes the board will make a decision on Thursday on what projects to pursue in a referendum and when to hold it. She and School Board member Tina Lehnertz planned to review a recommendation for millions in upgrades from a task force to further facilitate Thursday’s discussion, she said.
To hold a referendum this November, the School Board would need to submit information about it to the state by August 10.
This spring, the School Board received a recommendation from a facilities task force for $85.5 million of building upgrades, including adding on at the elementary and high school level, remodeling elementary and high school classrooms and addressing deferred maintenance throughout the district. The task force began their work last year after the School Board initially discussed the possibility of a facilities referendum.
“I think that the task force did their work with fidelity, and I don’t see a need for changing the task force recommendation at this time,” School Board member Michael Hanratty said in an interview earlier this month. He continued, “At this time, the task force recommendation and going out for the entire recommendation through a referendum would be my preference. That being said, the work happens at the board table, and I’m hoping that we can find a considerable amount of consensus on the way that we should go forward.”
Denzer said in an interview earlier this month that the task force recommendation was “appropriate,” and she would consider the option further. At the July 7 School Board meeting, she said she would favor smaller changes, not larger ones, to the recommendation. “When I think about tweaking what the task force has presented to us, in my mind, it’s not changing what they’ve presented. So tweaking to me means, do we do this or this? Not, do we wipe out one whole thing?”
The School Board also surveyed community members this spring about WAPS’ facilities and a possible referendum. Per the survey, the majority of respondents — 53 percent — thought $87 million was a “fair price” for the facilities projects. However, most respondents did not support the tax increases required to fund that referendum. According to the district’s tax consultant, owners of a $200,000 home would experience a tax increase of $203 a year, or $17 a month, from 2022 to 2023. In survey responses, 14 percent said they would agree with tax increases of $18 or greater a month. When told about the tax impact of $203 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home and asked if they would support the referendum today, 38 percent said they would support it, and 18 percent said they would strongly support it.
At the School Board’s July 7 meeting, Paul Aplikowski of the district’s architectural firm, Wold, which facilitated the task force, said that the faster WAPS plans a referendum, the less it should ask for. He also said that the more the School Board changes the task force’s recommendation, the more it should go back to the task force for further discussion. The more the School Board changes the option, as well, he said, the longer it could take to prepare for a referendum.
The School Board will meet at 6 p.m. on July 21 at Winona Senior High School.