By Shereen Siewert

The Wausau School District will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss a fine-tuned restructuring proposal that would combine elementary schools, shift fifth-grade students to middle school, create a junior high and a single senior high school.

But so far, the cost of the project remains murky. The proposal contains a jumble of numbers, from $1.38 million in planning costs to $38 million for Wausau East renovations, along with a budgeted cost savings, but no concrete total of what taxpayers will pay for Superintendent Keith Hilts’ vision to become reality.

Discussions about potential restructuring have been underway for months in Wausau, where enrollment has seen a sharp decline over the past two decades. Enrollment dropped by more than 700 students since 2002, according to district figures, with 239 students transferring to other districts at the start of the current school year. The decline resulted in lost revenue in the millions for the district, though the reasons for the student transfers are unclear.

But many parents aren’t convinced that restructuring is the answer and say they’re alarmed that the district is moving forward even after voters approved a $119 million referendum to address facility needs last year. Some parents are openly wondering what benefit such a project would have on the average student in the district, though officials tout the plan as reallocating resources to improve student outcomes.

Under the proposal administrators are now asking the School Board to approve, the district would close Hewitt-Texas, Grant, Rib Mountain, Lincoln and either Franklin or Hawthorne Hills elementary. One school would be converted into an environmental charter school, if that plan is approved, while one school would be the new space for a 4K through 8th grade Montessori School. Two schools could be repurposed as early learning centers, while other unused buildings could be sold. School officials have not said who would be responsible for operating and staffing early learning centers, should they be developed, or at what cost.

Students at Hewitt-Texas would attend Riverview, while Grant students would shift to Thomas Jefferson. Rib Mountain would combine with South Mountain and Lincoln would shift to G.D. Jones. Other students would find two possible scenarios – Franklin students would attend Hawthorne Hills, or Hawthorne Hills students would shift to John Marshall. In either scenario, John Marshall, which was designated a historical landmark last year by the city of Wausau, will remain open.

Secondary schools would also see a major transformation. Students in 5th through 7th grades would attend Horace Mann and John Muir Middle Schools, while Wausau East would become a junior high for grades 8-9 and Wausau West would house senior high students in grades 10-12. The senior high would adopt a modular scheduling system, which Wausau West currently offers but East does not.

The overall cost of the proposal, while unclear, is undoubtedly significant.

To serve as a single senior high school, Wausau East would have required a $38 million investment, while West needs a $10 million investment in a two-story addition to add 12 classrooms. According to district documents, the $10 million for West would come from money reallocated from the Montessori addition at Horace Mann/Grant and “other district funds.” The proposal also mentions construction at John Muir, but does not specify a cost.

The planning budget alone is set at $1.38 million and includes a plan for 1,200 employees to invest time during their work day – about 4 hours average – at no cost.

Also unclear is the legal ramifications of restructuring in light of last year’s voter referendum.

The special meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday in the auditorium at Wausau West High School, 1200 W. Wausau Ave. The proposal, included in the meeting packet, asks the board for a motion to approve the project. If passed, construction would begin this year and the project would be complete in 2025.

See the full proposal below.