As the vote totals poured in Tuesday night to determine the fate of the Winona Area Public Schools’ $9.4 million bond referendum, many of the district’s most critical needs hung in the balance.
The community came through for the schools, but approval wasn’t a slam dunk: While 56 percent of voters accepted the modest referendum, 44 percent voted to deny it. It’s likely a signal of constituents still wary of the district’s moves over the past year, but nevertheless, WAPS is set to move forward.
“I’m super relieved,” said Julie Heinrichs, a parent who headed up the Vote Yes committee meant to encourage people to accept the referendum. “I’m really grateful that (the people of Winona) took a step in support of the schools.”
She said Wednesday that many parents she spoke with after hearing the results were “jubilant.”
The first projects that will be tackled with the referendum money are locked vestibules at the elementary schools to increase security, which will be installed next summer. At Washington-Kosciusko Elementary, that will be paid for by a safety grant from the state.
Other initiatives include updating old electric and plumbing systems, reconstructing the high school’s parking lot, putting in a new roof at Goodview Elementary, adding a handicap-accessible shower stall at the high school and making significant accessibility improvements to Jefferson Elementary, where right now, those in wheelchairs must enter at the back of the school.
At a forum in October, district special education coordinator Sarah Knudsen said families looking for a good school district will examine how accessible its buildings are. The updates could increase the attractiveness of WAPS for those reasons.
“With the passage of the first successful bond referendum in over 20 years, WAPS voters have made an important investment in our students’ futures,” superintendent Rich Dahman said in a Wednesday email.
He thanked the members of the facilities task force that narrowed down projects to target which were most critical, as well as the school board and the Vote Yes committee.
Heinrichs said that although the work of her committee, also led by parent Lindsy O’Shea, is complete, there’s still many ways in which she hopes to strengthen connections between the district and its community members. She said although the referendum wasn’t huge, it was still a big step for the district in a tough environment.
To determine what longer-term plans should look like, Heinrichs said school officials should continue to look for ways to hear out the community, from city workers to business owners to other who aren’t necessarily parents.
“I think we all just need to be talking to each other,” she said. “The more we can get those different groups of people representing different perspectives on things, the better our long-term support for schools ... is going to be.”