‘No other option’ but consolidation to address financial challenges, La Crosse Superintendent says

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — In a communication to parents Monday, La Crosse school district Superintendent Aaron Engel called consolidation of high schools into one building the “only viable option” and reiterated that if next month’s referendum does not pass, the district will still need to consolidate in some way.

“The School District of La Crosse faces three challenges right now – declining enrollment, increasing maintenance costs associated with aging buildings, and budget deficits,” Engel’s statement read. “Any solution going forward must address all three of these challenges or we risk the financial stability of the school district and compromise our ability to provide students with the world-class education they deserve.”

The School District of La Crosse will ask voters next month to approve a $194.7 million referendum that would construct a new facility at the former Trane site on Pammel Creek Road. The new site would house students from both Logan and Central High Schools. The district says this will cost taxpayers an additional $8 per $100,000 of property value.

“The only viable option that addresses all three of these challenges is the consolidation of our buildings,” Engel said. “There is no other option or configuration of grades that balances our budget, provides students with the opportunities they need to be prepared for their future at all levels, and attracts and retains high-quality teachers.”

If the referendum fails, Engel says the financial challenges will force them to consolidate high schools in a different way.

“If the referendum fails, we will still need to consolidate,” Engel said. “This means moving into two middle schools in the short term and consolidating into one high school and one middle school within our existing buildings in five to ten years.”

This is the second time Engel has said that consolidation will need to happen regardless of the outcome of November’s referendum, though he seemed to walk back those comments in early August, saying consolidation wasn’t a guarantee if state school aid changes.

Amid considerable pushback on the referendum plan, Engel expressed concerns that the availability of the Trane site for consolidation is limited.

“In our exploration of sites for a high school, the Trane location was the only site available that is large enough to accommodate a new comprehensive high school. We inquired with the City of La Crosse and found that other sites like the former Mobile Oil site, Myrick Park, and the Forest Hills Golf Course were not possibilities. These other locations are committed to other developers, are too small, or have deed restrictions,” Engel added. “Given the lack of other sites in the City of La Crosse, this is likely the last time building a new high school in our district will be available to our students, families, and community.”

The election is November 8. More information on the referendum and upcoming community information sessions — including a virtual meeting held Wednesday night — can be found here.


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