Survey shows support for WAPS, proposed referendum

School buildings

The majority of district residents believe in Winona Area Public Schools and approve the recommendation of the Community Task Force to invest in and improve the current fleet of school buildings, according to a scientific survey conducted by one of Minnesota’s leading marketing and research firms. 

A phone survey of more than 400 people conducted by The Morris Leatherman Company contained mostly good news for the school board and the district as a whole. Fifty-six percent of respondents support or strongly support the recommendation, which calls for improvements such as creating flexible learning spaces and addressing accessibility issues at the three elementary schools, updating career and technical education spaces at the high school and other improvements and deferred maintenance needs at other buildings. Fifty-three percent of respondents said the $87 million cost of the referendum to be a “fair price,” while 33% do not, and 15% are unsure.

Respondents also approved this recommendation over an alternative that would include new school construction. Only 8% of the sample supports building a new elementary school, a number that falls when respondents are informed of the cost of a new building (30-40% more than the cost to remodel all three elementary schools) and the fact that the three current elementary schools would need to be closed. 

District residents overwhelmingly support one key aspect of the referendum — flexible learning spaces at the elementary buildings. Eighty-four percent of respondents rate the importance of flexible learning spaces as either “very important” or “somewhat important.”

Future classroom possibility

The report warned that the success or failure of any referendum likely rests on factors beyond the control of the district. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said they are financially struggling. “Any economic downturn can rapidly and negatively impact current support,” the report said. 
 
In addition to specific questions about the referendum, Morris Leatherman also gauged community perceptions about the district. Some of the positive findings include: 

  • 82% agree with the statement “Our community receives a good value for its investment in local public schools,” and 75% agree that “I trust the current board and administration to do what is right for children in this district.” 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. 
  • 76% rate the teachers and instructional staff in WAPS as “excellent” or “good,” while the school board and superintendent both register in the majority as well. 
  • 56% gave the district a favorable financial management rating

The complete report, as well as information about the recommendation from the Community Task Force, can be seen here.

The school board will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 7 in the WSHS Multi-Purpose Room and is expected to vote on the recommendation from the Community Task Force. The next step will be to set a possible referendum date. The board has been following a timeline that leads toward a referendum on the ballot for the November general election in 2022, but it is possible a special election could be held in 2023.