The Winona public school board passed the district’s 2019-20 preliminary budget Tuesday night with a 4-2 vote.

It brings a formal conclusion to the process which most remember vividly from earlier in the spring, when the board was tasked with slashing more than $2 million from the upcoming year’s budget. On Tuesday, some of the most controversial cuts made a second appearance at the board table.

Karl Sonneman proposed adding previously cut portions of elementary music and art, as well as fourth-grade orchestra, back into the budget for an additional $128,880. Class time for elementary music will be cut by 20 minutes a week during the next school year, and class time for art cut by 10 minutes.

“I think we can well afford to put this programming back into the elementaries,” Sonneman said.

When the board finalized their cuts in April, district officials pushed to grow the fund balance by 0.5% to edge WAPS slightly closer to its fund balance goal of 10%. Right now, it sits at just under 4%.

Outgoing finance director Sarah Slaby shared at the board’s last meeting, however, that the budget as proposed would give the district a chance to grow the balance up to 5.14%. Sonneman on Tuesday called for the board to keep that growth closer to the 0.5% stipulated to allow for the arts add-ins.

That amendment failed 4-2, with Sonneman and Allison Quam voting for it. Michael Hanratty was absent from the meeting. Sonneman and Quam later cast the two no votes on the budget overall.

Part of the fund balance also includes the “hot-spots” that superintendent Rich Dahman proposed to alleviate possible staffing concerns at the elementary, middle and high school level. Sonneman also argued for removing that money from the fund balance and making it a line item in the budget to ensure it would be able to be used. That amendment was also struck down 4-2.

Jim Schul added that he hopes in the next year the board can focus on adding what they cut back into the budget, and said he is “really looking forward to a school year where we’re not divided on cuts.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, board members voted to schedule a closed session to discuss the litigation between the school district and the Save Our Schools committee, a matter that leapt back into public discourse when the district’s attorney’s proposed order for summary judgment included the addition of SOS member Gretchen Michlitsch as a co-defendant on the suit, who would pay damages.

The makeup of the school board has changed starkly since last December, when they voted 6-1 to sue the group.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last for superintendent Rich Dahman, who is a finalist for the same position in Wisconsin’s Milton school district. It was also the last for finance director Sarah Slaby and Community Education director Margaret Schild.

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Madeline Heim covers K-12 & higher education in Winona. A 2018 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she previously interned at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the suburban community arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

(1) comment

Don Evanson

Thank you, Board members Karl Sonneman and Allison Quam for standing firm in the face of your peers to support what is widely regarded as classical education.

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