Damakant Jayshi

Amid growing calls to halt a contentious Wausau School District restructuring plan, the school board on Monday will discuss the possibility of holding an advisory referendum next year on the proposal.

The agenda for Monday’s regular meeting includes a discussion on “the possibility of offering an advisory referendum and/or a community survey to ascertain the level of understanding of the needs and projected outcomes of a District restructuring effort as well as the level of support for such an effort.”

The discussion on a potential advisory referendum comes in the wake of growing support for a petition that has now been signed by nearly 2,000 people who oppose the restructuring proposal presented by Wausau School District officials. Launched by Wausau school parent Norah Brown, the online petition asks district officials to make a decision “based on the will of the community rather than the ambitions of a superintendent and a few board members.”

Superintendent Keith Hilts called the advisory referendum a “mistake” and said the board, not the public, should make such decisions.

Restructuring, as presented by the administration, will shift 5th grade students to middle school, create a single junior high at the current Wausau East High School building and a single senior high school at Wausau West. A decision to close five neighborhood elementary schools wasn’t finalized, though a subsequent email from Superintendent Hilts named the five schools often cited for closure – as well as an additional school as an alternative to a named elementary school – and implied that the closures had already been finalized.

The agenda also includes an update on the restructuring plan, with feedback from staff on the pros and cons of staggering implementation, an approach that is favored by most school board members. The district’s presentation indicates that a majority of staff are opposed to a staggered implementation, though officials’ approach to survey questions have been criticized both by staff and parents.

In addition to the discussion on a potential April 2024 advisory referendum and the restructuring update, there are updates planned on the 50% design review for Wausau West High School and some elementary schools.