Winona schools may be forced to make some of the most severe cuts in the state if the voters turn down a school referendum. Should the referendum fail, extracurricular activities, sports, and all-day every-day kindergarten will vanish next year. In the past, the district has had difficult time securing the public's financial support. This time the stakes appear to be higher.
Fans crowded the Winona High School stadium at a recent game, as the Winona Winhawks squared off against the Albert Lea Tigers. Under the glare of floodlights, the Winhawks went on to score their second victory of the season. But this will be their last season, unless voters approve a a levy referendum to spend an additional $3.2 million each year for the next five years. If the levy fails, the Winhawks' black and orange uniforms will be packed away in storage. So will the band uniforms and instruments. It's a reality that parent Marie Holmquest is working hard to prevent.
"I am definitely voting yes. I have read too much research on what there is in the lives of kids that make them connected to their school, connected to their community, and make them successful in life," says Holmquest. "Activities like this connect them and they need those connections. Without extra-curriculars, what are they going to do?"
District officials say after making more than $2 million in cuts two years ago, they're barely limping by. Enrollment is on the decline. The district already spends less money on each student than the state average. Without more money, teachers will lose their jobs. Officials will shorten the school day, and make more cuts to music and art. No more student government, no more drama, no more swimming.
Eric Bartleson is the Winona school superintendent. He says without more money, the district has no choice.
"The board has already directed us that if the referendum fails, these are cuts that we are to implement for the 2002-2003 school year. I'm sure there will be debate and discussion, but the final word has come from the board that these are things that go," Bartelson says.
Bartleson says he's confident this referendum will pass. But Winona residents haven't always come through for their schools. Public funding for a new middle school took several attempts. Voters were reluctant to pay, even after a school chimney collapsed. The debris hit the lunchroom, but no students were injured.
Evert Salo eats spoonfuls of ice cream during lunch hour at the Winona Senior Center. He's not sure how he'll vote on November 6. But Salo has some reservations.
"I just wonder about parents who feel bad about their kids walking to school two miles away. In order to attend high school I had to attend four different schools and walk three-and-half miles to get there. It didn't hurt me," Salo says. "I'm afraid we dote on our kids. We often say that we don't want our children to have to undergo the things that we did."
The majority of seniors at the center say they'll vote for the referendum. But there's a subtle reluctance from Winona's older residents that's caused problems for school funding in the past.
If the referendum fails, school officials say there will be an effect beyond the classroom. They predict families will move out of the district, looking for better schools.More from MPR