Winona ISD, community continue discussions about restructuring s - News, Weather & Sports

Winona ISD, community continue discussions about restructuring school programs


The Winona school board met again Monday night to continue a discussion about restructuring the district to make it fiscally solvent.

The term is called "reduction in force," and it's a statewide policy that would allow the district to eliminate, curtail, or restructure programs as they see fit.

First-year Winona superintendent Denise Shetter said in an interview Monday that the district won't decide on which programs will be restructured until the second week of May.

Shetter says she's recommending a reduction in force plan to help the district get a better grip on its finances.

"For the last four years, we have approved a deficit budget," she said. "And even though things have happened during the year that we didn't go in the hole or we weren't as far in the hole as we projected, we still need to get a hold of our expenses. And in the school district, personnel is one of the largest expenses you have."

In December, the board was presented with options for areas, like transportation or maintenance, where they might be able to cut expenditures.

At a packed meeting in February, the board named the programs they are proposing be changed. They include elementary ESL and resource and training classes, the middle school technology program, and looking at personnel changes in the high school's math, English, and business departments and at campus and district administration positions.

"As we came through and we started looking at our programs, how many students they served, what it cost us, we had to ask ourselves are there other ways we can do it?" Shetter said. "Still getting our kids the services they need, but still making it as most efficient and effective as we can."

Janie McNutt says she worries about proposed larger class sizes for her 6th grade son, who is in special education classes.

"With the larger classroom sizes, it's very difficult for these kids that are slow learners to begin with to, in my opinion, for them to be able to keep up as well as the teachers to be able to teach them the way they need," said McNutt.

The district operates an $8.3 million annual budget. They had a budget deficit of about $330,000 last year and $500,000 this year, but ended up spending about $720,000 less than what they'd budgeted last year, leaving them with about $4.3 million in the bank at the end of the last budget year.

"So you still believe you need to make more cuts?" I asked Shetter.

"I still think that we need to balance our budget, and we need to reallocate staff based on our priorities," she said. "I don't believe that anything I have presented to the public about being overstaffed is wrong."

Monday night's meeting was so crowded it was moved halfway through from the district's board room to the middle school cafeteria.

The board heard a presentation from the maintenance and custodial department about its finances, but no recommendations were made on how to reduce costs.

And local teachers and citizens spoke out against the reduction in force plan during public comment.

"Teachers and students alike are distracted, plain and simple," said Winona teacher Patrice Coulter. "The administration and board have postponed the announcement of the employees that will be directly impacted by the RIF until May. How can teachers focus on educating students if they're not sure how stable their position will be?"

"Board members, you are investors of my tax dollars. I invested in a retirement account at work, and I have the option to choose how that's invested. I don't have the option to do that here," said Winona resident Justin Mitchell. "Ultimately, that goes through you, but I can tell you this: if I'm not satisfied with that, I can't change how that's invested, but I can change who invests it."

The board did not respond to the public comment, but Shetter said in her interview earlier Thursday she knows the proposed cuts may be hard to absorb.

"We have the potential of losing some really good teachers," Shetter said. "But when you're looking at the big picture and how do we want to strategically align these programs for the best of our students, those are things we have to consider."

The board voted to hold special meetings on both April 1 and 8 at 6:30 p.m.

Shetter said Thursday the board wants to hold as many meetings as they can to hear all their options before having to decide for sure on the reduction in force plan.

The district says they've also been holding meetings in the community and plan to keep doing so to keep answering parents' questions.

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