Damakant Jayshi

Members of the Wausau School Board’s Education/Operations Committee asked district officials to present all potential restructuring scenarios after reviewing a plan that would close five elementary schools and change the structure of middle and high schools

Two weeks ago, the Wausau School Board directed district officials to prepare restructuring plans for consideration. Committee members on Monday indicated they prefer to consider all scenarios at once instead of solely discussing tweaks to “Scenario A.” Officials say they’re working on four additional options.

Member Pat McKee, who along with Board Vice President Lance Trollop questioned several elements of the proposal presented this week, supported the idea of discussing more potential plans together.

“We owe it to our community to show a few more scenarios, with details,” McKee said, adding that not doing so would be a disservice to the community.

McKee, immediate past president of the school board, also said that he would support a plan only after all details are known and how staff, students and families will be impacted. He cited a hypothetical, but theoretically possible, scenario of a family having students at four different schools at the same time, and said officials need to consider all possibilities before approving a restructuring plan.

Under the scenario presented this week, some schools would continue to be over capacity while others would remain half full, even after restructuring, which prompted Trollop and a few other members to express their reservations. One rationale the district cited while justifying the need to restructure is the varying class sizes and inconsistent staffing across the various schools, among other challenges. The potential school merger has been an emotional topic for many people in the community.

Under the elementary merger proposal presented on Monday, South Mountain, GD Jones and Hawthorn Hills would be over capacity at 101%, and at 112% each, respectively, but John Marshall Elementary School is projected at 49%, more than 10% less than its present enrollment.

Trollop said the concept of moving a whole school to another school has a lot of benefits in the short term, “but we also have to think about 10 years from now, 20 years from now.” He questioned how the board could justify a proposal that would add students to some schools but leave another at less than 50% capacity. He also suggested a referendum may be necessary in the future, and community members could reject a plan that has about $9 million set aside for a school that is 100 years old and at just 50% capacity. The 100-year-old John Marshall Elementary School, despite objections from the board and district administration, has been designated as a historic landmark.

Board President James Bouche said representatives are doing the right thing by asking questions, adding that the board needs to hear both “the negatives and the positives” before making a decision.

Among those who spoke on the proposal, only Board Treasurer Jon Creisher appeared to like most elements of the plan as presented. He said they appeared to be on a good track and repeated, on a few occasions, that doing nothing is a not an option.

Board Clerk Karen Vandenberg suggested that the administration should bring in other options so that they can ensure more people will be engaged in the discussion.

Superintendent Keith Hilts said the administration will bring other scenarios but asked the board for patience. He also asked the community to share their feedback, questions and concerns through a link provided at the bottom of the district’s new web page, which is dedicated to the topic. During the discussions earlier, Hilts clarified that having some larger school populations – which would be a result of the mergers – would not mean larger sized classrooms. Some board members in the past also emphasized this point.

The district is also organizing a second community discussion on restructuring. It will be held at Wausau East High School at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 7.