A community vision to invest, improve, inspire: WAPS school board finalizes referendum scope

A community vision to invest, improve, inspire: WAPS school board finalizes referendum scope
Graphic showing School Board Report

A community vision to invest in students through improving educational and activity spaces to inspire lifelong learning will go before voters in the Winona Area Public Schools district in April. 

The WAPS school board, using the dreams of the community as its guide, finalized the scope of a two-question referendum in a unanimous decision at tonight’s meeting. 

The projects supported by the referendum will help adapt the district’s current spaces to align with its recently approved strategic plan, a visionary roadmap that focuses on systemic changes to support the individual needs of students, staff, families and community members. 

Question No. 1 will ask voters to invest $72.5 million into classroom and building improvements, including: 

  • Updating career and technical education spaces at the high school to prepare graduates to successfully enter the local workforce
  • Addressing accessibility issues at the district’s historic elementary schools, so all students have access to the same school day experience regardless of their physical ability. 
  • Creating and outfitting flexible learning spaces across the district in order to meet the diverse personalized learning needs of students.
  • Building small additions to Jefferson and Washington-Kosciusko elementary schools to provide students with a larger cafeteria and additional student support spaces.
  • Remodeling unused classrooms at the Winona Area Learning Center into a fitness and activity space, providing a basic need that required students to board a bus or van in the past. 
  • Completing a list of deferred maintenance projects that extend the life and usability of district buildings. 

Question No. 2 features improvements to extracurricular spaces, including the addition of a sorely needed gymnasium at the high school and accessible, equitable locker rooms. The music area at the high school also will be remodeled. The investment required for Question No. 2 is $21.7 million. Question No. 1 will need to be passed by voters before Question No. 2 can pass. 

A complete list of the projects is available in this document.

If the first question passes, the estimated tax impact to the property owner of a home valued at $200,000 is $177 annually, or about $14.75 per month. If the second question passes, the tax impact is about $77 more annually for the same homeowner, or an additional $6.42 a month.

A preliminary tax impact can be found in this document

Voters approved a modest $9.42 million referendum in 2018 that focused on the district’s most dire needs, including accessibility, safety and security upgrades. Those projects were completed on time and under budget, which allowed the district to complete additional projects on the deferred maintenance list. 

At the time, the 2018 referendum was called Phase 1. The work on Phase 2 started in the summer of 2021 and included 17 months of collaborating with community members, teachers, district staff, engineers, architects and consultants. 

A Community Task Force that included both district staff members and community members met 10 times over the course of four months, toured each of the district’s six buildings and vetted 12 different options — including new construction, consolidating buildings and changing grade-level configurations — before reaching a consensus that became the foundation of the district’s Master Facilities Plan approved by the school board in the summer of 2022.

A phone survey conducted in May by The Morris Leatherman Company, one of Minnesota’s leading marketing and research firms, indicated that the majority of district residents not only support the task force recommendation, but believe in Winona Area Public Schools. Eighty-four percent of respondents rate the importance of flexible learning spaces as either “very important” or “somewhat important.” Respondents also said the district does a good job of involving the community, has spent previous referendum funds fairly and only asks for referendum support when all other options have been exhausted.

In late 2021, the board used special levy authority to improve air quality by approving geothermal dehumidification projects at Jefferson and Washington-Kosciusko, an investment that breathes new life into the historic elementary building and also expands the possibilities for their use by the community. 

Voting will take place on Tuesday, April 11. Information about ballot box locations and early voting will be available at winonaschools.org. 

The district plans to hold several community engagement events before election day. More information on these events and the referendum in general will be found at winonaschools.org.