Editor’s note: This story has been revised at the request of Wausau School District officials to clarify that the survey was online only with a postcard sent to households. In addition, this version of the story adds context to the solutions stated in the survey.

Damakant Jayshi

The Wausau School District on Monday reviewed the results of a recent community survey on potential solutions to existing challenges, which included questions about combining high schools and two or more elementary schools as options.

Ultimately, under the dual-campus model, Wausau East and Wausau West high schools would be combined. Supporters say a dual campus would even out disparities among academic and athletics offerings at each school and level enrollment figures. Wausau West has a larger enrollment than Wausau East, a newer facility built in 2004.

The online survey, with a postcard sent to more than 16,000 households was taken between Sept. 27 and Oct. 15 and was completed by 2,543 respondents. Of those, 707 (28%) were part of a “comparison group” comprising residents who are not current parents, students or staff. The survey aimed to gauge the level of support from the community for possible new facilities and maintenance of existing ones that the school administration and some Board members feel are essential. Solutions stated in the survey included renovated choir, band and orchestra rehearsal and performance spaces; improved drama and theater spaces; and athletics improvements including performance spaces, artificial turf fields and renovated locker rooms, among others.

The Wausau School Board on Monday had a first look at the results.

During Monday’s Education and Operations Committee meeting, some board members raised concerns about how the most recent survey questions were framed, after hearing from constituents on the matter.

The Sept.-Oct. survey, conducted in partnership with the Donovan Group, a communications and messaging firm, attaches a note about the methodology that states: “The following data points are not based on a scientific sample. Because we used a convenience sample, it would be methodologically inappropriate to conduct regression analysis or attempt to calculate error.”

A convenience sample, explained WSD, “simply means that we accept all responses. A scientific sample would require us to predetermine a number of representative community members and solicit feedback from only people fitting those parameters.”  

Joe Donovan of the Donovan Group on Monday described the survey as more of a “conversation” with resopndents.

“It’s important and imperative to note that the District/Board is/are starting from scratch in efforts to find solutions to the District’s facility needs,” Diana White, Coordinator of Communications and Marketing, told Wausau Pilot & Review, sharing the response from the District. “This survey is the starting point; the beginning of what will be an ongoing conversation over the next several months.”

The District has set aside Thursday, Oct. 28 and Monday, Nov. 8 or community engagement sessions where they intend to get feedback on surveys as well get a sense of the community’s priorities.

Some of the needs outlined in the survey results speak of outdated facility systems and deferred maintenance, safety and security needs, outdated instructional environments, and co-curricular and fine arts facilities.

About 85% of the respondents who completed the survey said they had some familiarity (59%) or were very well informed (16%) of the “school district’s facility needs and the process the board is using to find solutions,” and 80% of respondents said needs should be addressed now.

During the discussions, Board member Ka Lo said she heard from some respondents who were concerned that the way questions were framed led them to specific answers. She specifically referred to questions about outdated facility systems and safety or security needs in her concerns.

“That certainly was not the goal in this survey,” WSD officials said. “Our goal was to provide respondents with enough information that they felt as though they could make an informed decision to the questions we asked.”

Both the WSD and the Donovan Group worked on developing and framing questions for the survey, White said.  

Board member Jane Rusch said some respondents felt strongly about a question on co-curricular and fine arts facilities and said that a separate question on each need would have elicited a more accurate response.

Similarly, Board Clerk Karen Vandenberg said people told her they were confused by a question about a proposed “dual campus model.” According to the questionnaire, “under this  model, 9th and 10th graders would attend high school at one existing campus, while 11th and 12th graders would complete their education at the other school. The benefits of this would include every student having access to all curricular and co-curricular programs.”

The survey did show significant support for combining high schools, with 65% of respondents in favor. The survey showed 35% of respondents opposed to a dual campus model.

A proposal to merge some elementary schools also saw a majority of support, at 57%, with 43% opposed.

Previously, the board discussed two proposed multi-million dollar indoor athletics facilities. District administrators stressed in previous formal and informal conversations that the estimated price tag of the proposed athletics facilities, proposals that rank among the lowest of previously identified priorities among staff and parents, will not come from the WSD budget, but through fundraising efforts that would also provide an opportunity to engage with the community. Athletics facilities were ranked at number 11 by school staff and number 22 by parents, according to a survey shared during a June board meeting.

Enrollment at WSD increases

In a positive development for the Wausau School District, enrollment for 2021-22 school year increased to 7,991.

“Analysis of available data reveals 597 students moved into the Wausau School District while 326 students moved out of the District,” according to a WSD presentation on the student demographics and enrollment. “This is a significant shift from last year when 338 students moved into the Wausau School District and 572 students moved out of the District.”

Wausau School officials said Kindergarten enrollment continued to attract approximately 88% of available 5-year old students in the Wausau School District area.

“The Wausau School District continues to support a diverse student body with 36% of students representing a race other thanWhite.”