Tuesday, August 09, 2022

School district meetings


In spring 2021 the La Crosse School District' superintendent, Dr. Aaron Engel, invited community members to "public input" meetings about the future of La Crosse schools. At those sessions, the props for an input session were present but it was pretty clear from the presentation and lack of answers that the decisions had already been made. Neighborhood schools would close and lots of money would be requested for a new high school waaaaay on the southside of town, far from homes, shops, restaurants, and after school jobs. This was bad. Really bad.

Questions about transportation came up. How many students would lose the ability to walk or bike to school? How were families without cars supposed to get to parent-teacher conferences? How many more teens would be expected to drive to school so they could get to their after-school jobs? How would all this new driving affect transportation greenhouse gas emissions? What conversations had been held with low-income families? What other options had been considered? How did staff feel about these plans?


And still, more than a year later, the only response has been that the state does not give the school districts enough money. Nothing about equity, transportation problems, climate consequences, safety concerns. 

After those initial meetings, there have been two push-poll surveys and other meetings where legitimate questions were, again, not answered.

The one answer Dr. Engel did give was why he had chosen the Trane administration building site. We don't need a site the size of Mayberry for a high school. But we do if there's going to be a giant redundant sports complex and huge parking lot.

To make matters worse, the school board seems to have  hidden behind a system of doing business that gives almost total control of everything to the superintendent. They set broad goals and he does what he wants with annual reviews to see if he's meeting those goals. The goal categories need updating (there's nothing, for example about the district's responsibility to our community and its students to operate in a way that reduces carbon emissions and transitions to renewable energy). And rules that allow for board intervention and more frequent assessments are, it seems, being ignored.

There's more, too, as staff protest pitiful inadequate raises and one school board member has resigned. As the city rolls out its draft climate action plan, it's clear that the school district's plans will make the commumity carbon reduction goals harder to achieve. Staff have not been listened to. Parents who want to bike with their kids to school have not been listened to. Families who don't drive have not been listened to.

More meetings are being planned, including at least one neighborhood meeting (at 6 p.m. on August 23 hosted by Logan Northside Neighborhood at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1010 Sill St), between now and November 8 when a nearly $200 million referendum will go before the voters. Don't expect to get answers or have anything change. The fix has been in from the start. But please go anyway and keep asking for answers. There are many reasons to oppose this plan. I think it needs to be withdrawn for now until real public input can be included.

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