— By Aaron J. J. Engel, Ph.D., Superintendent, School District of La Crosse
We need your help. The School District of La Crosse recently sent a survey to all households in our district asking for input on the direction we should take with our current facilities, and we need your help to make this process a success.
Our district is facing two pressures that create a need for long-range facility planning. First, we are experiencing continued declining enrollment — fewer kids are attending our schools than they were five, 10, even 20 years ago due to a continued downward trend in birth rates county-wide.
This means we have less revenue to operate our schools and more underutilized space in those same buildings. Revenue limit decreases due to declining enrollment have led to deficit budgets and impacted our ability to attract and retain staff. These deficits have also started to negatively affect the programs and services we need for our students.
Along with declining enrollment, our buildings are aging. Five of our buildings are over 80 years old. Our six oldest buildings have over $30 million in deferred maintenance needs.
While these buildings are safe and acceptable to educate our students in, they do not meet the modern educational needs of those students and are not fully updated to the current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. These facilities were built to educate students in the 1920s and 1930s, not 2021.
Over the last decade, our district has taken steps to reduce budgets, scale services, and consolidate schools. The building of Northside Elementary School consolidated two buildings into one and significantly reduced overhead costs. We need to consider this type of strategy again to further reduce overhead costs and become more efficient so we can invest in what matters most, the instruction of our students.
The School District of La Crosse has strategically managed its debt and we are currently experiencing historically low interest rates. As a result, we have an opportunity to go to referendum and invest in our community through upgraded or new school facilities that meet the modern educational needs of all of our students.
We ask that you please take a seat at the table and make your voice heard by completing our long-range facility planning survey so we have more information to help guide our work. Please complete and return the survey by November 18 so we can learn more about what you think is the best course of action.
Strong schools and even stronger communities can only happen with your collaboration, input, and support.
If you did not receive a survey but are interested in taking part in the process, please contact the superintendent’s office by calling 608.789.7628 and a copy of the survey will be sent to you.
For more information on the long-range facility planning work done so far, please visit www.lacrosseschools.org.