Members of the La Crosse school board are being urged again to avoid closing schools.
Following up on public hearings last week, speakers at Monday’s bi-weekly school board meeting urged the district to reject plans for closing buildings, such as Emerson or Spence elementary schools.
Some of those who spoke also made comments at last Wednesday’s hearing, and criticized board members who didn’t attend that planning session.
The board has been accused of hand-picking what’s called a Facility Advisory Committee, representing more affluent areas of the district, and not including representatives from all school neighborhoods in La Crosse.
The committee, which averaged about 21 people at its eight monthly meetings, finalized a report last month to suggest the district close North Woods and Hintgen elementary schools to help the district with cost savings and declining enrollment challenges.
During Monday’s public comment period, speaker James Owens said Emerson should be sold or leased to its neighbor, UW-La Crosse.
As for Spence, he said it could be demolished for space to make a pocket neighborhood, such as the one that has been developed on the former Naval Reserve property.
Owens added that the closing of Franklin and Roosevelt schools and the construction of Northside School a decade ago, worked, so that’s a formula which could be followed again.
He also referred to a 2019 study in the district, which identified the need for a new school building, so he suggested that as an option.
A deficit of close to $5 million, as well as steadily declining enrollment, has been used as arguments to consolidate the district.
Speaker Greg Inda, however, said the new state budget signed this summer includes $7 million in two years for La Crosse schools, which would wipe out that local deficit in a few years.
“There should be a moratorium on closing any schools for at least the next two years, while the board continues to monitor the situation,” Inda said, adding that the new funding coming to La Crosse does not support the idea of closing schools.