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5 options for solving Onalaska School District overcrowding issue

By Pauleen Le, ple@wkbt.com
Published On: Dec 28 2012 06:03:22 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 28 2012 07:47:31 PM CST
ONALASKA, Wis. -

The start of the new year is just days away, yet the Onalaska school district is already planning for education for 2014 and beyond.

The district is currently looking into how to solve the overcrowding in its elementary school.

Onalaska School District Superintendent Fran Finco said student success in classroom relies partly on the buildings themselves.

“You want children to have enough room, you want them to be able to have access to things like water for the classroom for science projects and other projects (and) you want it to be energy efficient,” said Finco.

When students return from winter break, all classrooms in the district's three elementary schools will once again be filled to capacity.

Finco said that could lead to bigger problems in the future.

“What's the result of that?” ask Finco. “Every time you get new kids, you have higher class sizes.”

He and other district leaders have been working for months to fix the problem.

He said Northern Hills Elementary could be part of the solution.

“Northern Hills has needs that haven't been met since 2003,” said Finco.

Back in the 1970s, Northern Hills Elementary was the premiere elementary school.

Finco now said its heating and air conditioning system, among other things, is outdated and so is the building's layout.

“It has an addition that was built on it that has eight classrooms that have no hallways,” said Finco. “So you have to walk through one classroom to get to the next classroom. It’s a little interruptive in terms of student learning.”

The district has come up with five options: remodel Northern Hills, build a new elementary school on the Northern Hills site, build a new elementary school at the Riders Club Road soccer fields site, use the soccer field site to build a new middle school and move the Northern Hills Elementary students into the existing middle school or do nothing at all.

The district will narrow down the options for a possible referendum question on the February 2014 ballot for the community to decide.

“It's not about adding things necessarily, but it is about continually improving our district,” said Finco.

The school district is also looking into a new operating referendum.

The district is currently in the middle of a more than $4 million operating referendum that is set to end next year.

Finco said the details are still being worked out but district leaders are looking to be as fiscally responsible as possible.

“We've been trying to do that even more so in the last three to five years to make sure that when we have to go to referendum again for operating, it's just enough to keep us going with the programs and the services that we have,” said Finco.

Finco said the two referendums are still in the very early stages of planning.

A lot of the decisions hinge on how much state aid the district will receive in the next budget cycle.

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