Rollingstone Community School, set to close its doors in less than a month, would have new life under a proposal that’s now before the Winona school board.
Championed by Rollingstone city officials and community members, the proposal would allow the elementary school — which board members voted to close in March — to remain open as either an independent charter school or a district-authorized charter school.
On Thursday, board members are expected to vote on a separate resolution that would preclude the building, once it’s sold by the district, from being reopened as a competing school.
“We’re putting forth our best effort to collaborate with the district and the board … and we think this is a real win-win,” said Rachel Larson, a city councilor in Rollingstone and one of the leaders of the Rollingstone Community School Planning Committee.
A district-authorized charter would sustain the flow of older Rollingstone students to Winona Middle School and Winona Senior High School, Larson said. Plus, she added, the school would be a key selling point among families that live near the bordering Lewiston-Altura school district.
“In Rollingstone and the outlying communities, there’s been overwhelming support for pursuing the charter school options,” Larson said. “We’re very, very excited to move forward with this.”
Added Randall Sullivan, another committee leader: “My hope is they come in with an open mind, and they’re able to listen to what we have to offer.”
The full proposal, developed with help from a firm in St. Paul, was submitted to the district Monday. As of Monday evening, it had not been released to the public.
District officials and some board members have balked at the idea of allowing Rollingstone to remain a school, arguing that it would likely hurt enrollment and, as a result, the district’s bottom line.
“Giving buyers an option to open a school in competition with our schools, I don’t think, is a sound decision for our district,” Superintendent Rich Dahman said this month. “Our responsibility is to do what’s best for our district. We don’t have any responsibility to do what’s best for charter or parochial schools.”
But there’s a chance that, no matter what the school board decides, the district’s budget will take a hit.
Competing schools might hurt enrollment — but so might an exodus of disgruntled Rollingstone families.
Tina Lehnertz, a board member whose district includes Rollingstone, said many families are preparing to leave the district in favor of Lewiston-Altura or other options. Rollingstone’s 70 students represent more than $400,000 in annual funding from the state.
“I support a school in Rollingstone because, in any small community, that’s the heart of the community,” Lehnertz said. “We’re going to lose a lot of students if we don’t have a building out in that direction. It would be a loss for Rollingstone and a loss for the district as a whole.
“We’ve made the mistake of closing outlying schools in the past, and we haven’t learned from it, obviously.”
Larson said Monday, and defenders of Rollingstone have said for months, that the school is perfectly suited for an environmental or agricultural focus — something that could entice families from both the city and country.
The school already has a garden, pond and walking trail, and it has plenty of room for growth on the 12-acre property. Built in 1996, Rollingstone is also the district’s newest elementary school, with relatively few deferred maintenance needs.
At their most recent meeting, school board members passed resolutions prohibiting Madison and Central elementary schools — which the board also voted to vacate in March — from being reopened as schools. The district intends to sell those properties soon, possibly this summer.
The school in Rollingstone seemed destined for a similar fate at the May 3 board meeting, but members decided to table the resolution in an eleventh-hour vote.
WAPS expected to vote Thursday on a separate resolution that would preclude the building, once sold, from being reopened as a competing school.