By Shereen Siewert | Wausau Pilot & Review
Wausau School Board member Pat McKee next week will ask his colleagues to approve a detailed new plan to keep current high schools open while considering a defined strategic advancement plan for the district.
McKee said the plan isn’t just his, but one that is based on a significant amount of feedback from parents, staff, students, taxpayers and other board members.
“l put pen to paper and attempted to create a plan that addresses the most significant concerns we have heard from stakeholders while also providing a path forward that allows us to achieve our objectives,” McKee said.
McKee is one of a handful of board members who have openly questioned the lack of details surrounding the district’s massive restructuring plan, spearheaded by Superintendent Keith Hilts. Under the current plan, Wausau’s two high schools would merge, five elementary schools would close, and students would attend both a middle school and junior high school. Snags in the plan have emerged, including the need for an additional roughly $6 million science wing at Wausau West to satisfy curriculum requirements, as well as additional costs for busing and concerns over transportation and other issues.
Hilts’ plan has seen sharp pushback from residents, dividing the community. More than 2,000 people have signed a petition to hold a referendum prior to moving forward on Hilts’ vision for restructuring, an idea Hilts referred to as “a mistake.”
Some parents and board members want to see other options. Now, they have concrete details on what McKee first floated in October, at which time he said his alternative plan would save taxpayer dollars, increase trust in the community and create a better learning environment for students. Last month, he said his plan could save $14 million long term.
McKee’s initial suggestion for an alternative plan was met with strong reaction from Hilts, who sent an email on Oct. 24 admonishing board members for failing to “be a team.” In his email, he blasted board members not only for their differences over the current restructuring plan, but also for hiring an independent attorney to conduct an investigation of the district’s handling of a personnel matter last year.
“Again, if we had been on the same team and focused on student and staff needs, we would be in a better situation,” Hilts’ email reads. “When administration and the Board do not work together, bad things happen.”
On Friday, McKee formally asked to have his strategic advancement plan, which he says promotes a ‘student and parent first’ mindset, included on Monday’s meeting agenda. An 11-page presentation details a pathway that aims to “provide taxpayers with transparent and fiscally responsible financial oversight that clearly shows how requested investments will be spent” along with the expected return on those investments.
In addition, McKee’s document says the plan will “provide parents with confidence that their children will receive the highest quality education along with consistent academic and extracurricular opportunities regardless of where they live.”
In his proposal, McKee outlines specific, documented goals for the board to consider in the future: achieving a 95 percent parity in high school course offerings and content between East and West; improving the ratio of support staff to students; decreasing the overall square footage managed by the district by 10 percent; maintaining the current mill rate published to taxpayers; and ensuring 100 percent of elementary class sizes are at or below district guidelines. Those goals are just examples, he said, which can be better defined at a later date, and no action is being requested so far.
But McKee is asking the board to take action Monday on several concrete requests. The board action he seeks would call for current referendum projects to be completed, keep the current high school structure, branding and mascots; keep John Muir and Horace Mann for grades 6-8; assess options to bring 4K into elementary schools where possible and discontinue work on a proposed daycare plan with the YMCA.
In addition, McKee is asking to assess ways to decrease the amount of space used for traditional elementary school education, while engaging a third party to estimate the related costs. Under McKee’s proposal, the district would examine closing Longfellow after relocating administrative offices to existing space in another building. Click here to read through the full document, with the board action requests on page 11.
McKee said the alternative plan has three goals. First, to provide the community with a definitive response that the board heard their concerns and is taking appropriate measures; second, to clearly define goals in a way that is supported by data, so they can be objectively evaluated as to progress and completion; and third, to provide the board the option to make logical, sequential decisions that will lead to success with respect to the strategic objectives and goals for the district.
“We know more today than we did in February,” McKee said. “I am advocating that we use this knowledge to course-correct away from the current plan and develop a revised plan that is objective and transparent. The fundamental shift we need to make is to focus on goals and not confuse goals with solutions. For example, the goal is to provide high school students with a more consistent overall experience. The goal was not to combine high schools. That was a possible solution that somehow morphed into ‘the goal.'”
Monday’s meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the Wausau School Forest-Environmental Learning Center, 218735 Hwy. KK, Mosinee. District officials have not clarified whether this meeting will be shared live or on YouTube, but Wausau Pilot & Review will update this story when that information is received.