La Crosse School District sets two info sessions on long-range facility plan

Meetings set for 6 to 8 p.m. April 27 and May 3 at Lincoln Middle School
School Planning
(La Crosse School District website)

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — The La Crosse School District is seeking community input on its long-range facility plan.

The district will host information sessions about the plan, which includes consideration of building one high school and moving middle-schoolers into the two existing high schools, from 6 to 8 p.m. April 27 and May 3 at Lincoln Middle School at 510 Ninth St. S.

“We are excited to wrap up our long-range facility planning process,” said Superintendent Aaron Engel. “With our facilities, we want to provide students with modern learning environments and right-size facilities to reduce operating and deferred maintenance costs.

“We have a few challenges with our facilities, but we also have great opportunities,” he said.

The first challenge is declining enrollment, which has a significant impact on funding. Each student represents about $11,300 in potential revenue.

Because of lower birth rates over the past three decades, the district has 1,300 fewer students than in 2000 and enrollment is projected to continue to decline over the next decade, according to district calculations.

Declining enrollment results in less revenue, underused buildings, inefficient staffing and increased operational costs, according to district officials. The district has made substantial reductions in all budget areas to keep up with these financial limitations but annual deficits continue.

Another challenge is excess capacity. School districts the size of La Crosse typically have fewer buildings. The district maintains 15 buildings, including two high schools, three middle schools, nine elementary buildings and one charter school building.

School districts of similar size average 10.5 buildings with one high school, two middle schools, and seven elementary schools. La Crosse is the smallest district in Wisconsin with two high schools.

The third challenge is aging buildings, which have higher operating costs and substantial deferred maintenance, while no longer meeting students’ modern educational needs.

An assessment of the district’s deferred maintenance needs indicates $81 million in expenses with an annual budget of only $1.2 million to address those needs. A facility assessment of the five oldest school buildings in the district (the middle schools and Emerson and Spence Elementary) indicates $25 million in infrastructure costs for those buildings alone.

The school district’s aging buildings have been modified continually to meet new expectations, but the oldest buildings do not meet modern ADA codes; have undersized classrooms; lack specialized spaces for music, art and physical education for students with disabilities, and limit instructional practices.

“All students eventually go through the middle and high schools, so by focusing our facility planning on a sixth- 12th-grade solution, we will achieve the most positive impact for the most students at one time,” Engel said.

“The largest maintenance costs and greatest needs for improvement are at our middle schools,” said Engel, who added that building one high school and moving middle schoolers into the existing high schools immediately would improve the learning environment for half of the district’s student body.

“This also provides us with the largest cost savings as early as possible through our long-range facility plan,” he said.
Consolidating middle and high schools also would educational opportunities for students. There are classes, programs and athletics at some schools that cannot be run because there are too few students.

As a result, the district already has a number of co-ops between schools to continue programs wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

More information on the district’s long-range facility planning is on the district website.

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