WAPS school board enlists community help in building a vision for the future 

School Board Report Aug. 5

The Winona Area Public Schools board on Thursday night committed to a process that it hopes will result in a clear vision for the future of the district — and the community will be asked to help. 

The approval of a community task force was one of several steps forward the board took Thursday in developing a strategy to reimagine the district’s buildings, classrooms and programming amid $63 million in deferred maintenance, changing demographics that are resulting in decreased enrollment and a desire to cultivate innovative learning spaces that are focused on student needs. 

The school board also approved a list of questions that the community task force will seek to answer as it evaluates current data and engages in discussions about 21st century learning environments, as well as how WAPS can adapt and evolve to better serve its students, families and community.

A similar task force convened in 2018 to lay the groundwork for a successful $9.42 million bond referendum that addressed the district’s most pressing safety, security and accessibility concerns. Members of that task force will be able to apply for the new task force. An application process will be announced within the next couple weeks. 

The board also approved a plan for its Finance Committee to explore the possibility of using health and safety bonds to improve the air quality in all of its current buildings. The motion, authored by board member Karl Sonneman and approved unanimously, would allow the board to use levy authority that doesn’t need to be approved by voters and would keep the tax impact on property owners neutral, address a critical need and give the community task force time to do its work before asking the voters to support a larger, more comprehensive plan. 

“I think it’s valuable to look at this approach to see what can be done,” Sonneman said. “If we go with health and safety bonds, it would fit nicely with a community task force looking at larger questions and a longer-term picture.”

Any recommendation from the Finance Committee, which consists of Sonneman, board chair Nancy Denzer and board treasurer Steve Schild in addition to district administration, would still need to be approved by the full board. 

The board also moved closer to updating its master facilities plan, an item that will receive a vote at its next meeting. The last time the master facilities plan was updated was prior to the 2018 referendum. 

“We need something to build upon,” board member Jim Schul said. “It’s high time that we roll our sleeves up and do it.”

There was some confusion over whether or not a plan existed. That’s partly because there is no definition of a master facilities plan, Paul Aplikowski of Wold Architects and Engineers said, and school boards aren’t required to have one. 

“You have a direction that you are going, but what sometimes is lacking is the vision, which is what I think you are talking about,” Aplikowski said. “It’s the vision for the future. So that’s what this process is. Whatever you decide to do, that’s the goal, is to provide the vision that helps you flush out the master facilities plan.”

The master facilities plan will coincide with the district’s work on updating its strategic plan, about which the board will learn more information at its next meeting. 

New finance director: The board also approved the hiring of Sarah Slaby as the district’s next finance director. Slaby previously worked for the district and was the finance director from 2014-2019. She replaces Kristy Millering, who submitted her resignation in June.

COVID-19 prevention strategies: Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit presented to the board a list of proposed COVID-19 prevention strategies for the 2021-22 school year, which include a masking requirement or recommendation that aligns with CDC determination of transmission risk for Winona County. The board will vote on the proposal at the Aug. 19 meeting.