By Shereen Siewert
The Wausau School District this week unveiled a proposal to close six elementary schools, part of a massive, $85 million reorganization plan being discussed this week.
The plan calls for Maine, Hewitt-Texas, Rib Mountain, Grant, Lincoln and Franklin Elementary School students to shift to other schools, allowing some buildings to be repurposed for other uses. Seven K-4 elementary schools — John Marshall, Riverview, Hawthorne Hills, Stettin, South Mountain, G.D. Jones and Jefferson Elementary Schools — would remain open. Those schools would undergo more than $53 million in renovations and additions to accommodate the added capacity.
The remaining schools were chosen in part due student concentration, suitability for expansion and other recent investments made, among other factors.
No elementary staff will lose their jobs as part of the project, officials said.
Under the terms of the proposal, 5th grade students would shift to the middle school as part of a single, “whole” system. Grades 5-6 would be housed in the John Muir building with grades 7-8 in the Horace Mann building.
If the plan is ultimately approved, Maine Elementary would become a 4K-8 Montessori school, while Franklin Elementary would serve as the district’s combined alternative school site. Thom Field would undergo a remodel as well, which would include a turf field, showers, concessions and increased parking.
Middle school renovation budgets, funded through bond issues, are estimated at about $31.6 million including deferred maintenance, remodeling and additions.
The project requires significant initial investment but would result in major cost savings, officials said. Wausau has smaller schools than most other Wisconsin districts, according to state figures. The average K-5 school in the largest 100 districts has 333 students, while the average Wausau elementary school houses 260 pupils.
School officials are also considering capital improvements at the Wausau School Forest, expansion of the Montessori program with a permanent location, Thom Field safety and security improvements and modernized life safety systems.
The reorganization plan is a response to changing needs and enrollment issues in the district, according to WSD documents.
Officials say they will start with a video message to relay information about the plan, as early as May, before engaging a broad range of staff and community to develop the project. A facility task force, meetings with local leaders and community members are also planned, along with a follow-up survey to gather community feedback on specific proposals.
The Wausau School Board would need to approve the referendum project by August if the measure will be presented to voters in November.
Wausau School Board President Tricia Zunker said the board, months before the pandemic, approved an action for the district to undertake extensive research and explore options for a potential referendum. Those efforts were taken to advance student learning, achievement and success, Zunker said.
A virtual meeting of the school board is planned for 5 p.m. on Thursday. Public comment is not on the agenda for the meeting but can be submitted by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 715-261-0505 or by regular mail to: 415 Seymour Street, Wausau, WI 54402.
“Tonight’s special meeting is simply discussion of potential options,” Zunker said. “Public and staff input is critical to our decision-making and if we move forward considering a proposed option presented tonight, ample opportunities for public and staff comment will occur before any final action by this board.”
A copy of the agenda, with instructions to attend, is embedded below.Signed Special Agenda 04.23.20